Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani and Archbishop Jose Gomez visit Lakers practice
Along the sideline of the Lakers' practice court stood a vast camera crew filming the upcoming reality series about Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian.
But that's not what made Wednesday's practice unusual.
No, what made it unusual were the two men sitting in folding courtside chairs wearing black shirts, white collars and crucifixes. Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the archbishop of Lima, Peru, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, the new leader of the Los Angeles archdiocese, were invited by the Lakers to attend their practice Thursday where they witnessed a full-court scrimmage and had one-on-one conversations with Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Mitch Kupchak and Pau Gasol.
Yup, it's just another day in Laker land.
"We offered them some prayers so they could finish a good tournament," said Cipriani, who was in town visiting his friend, Gomez. "They're doing really well in these last games and hopefully they'll be ready for the playoffs. Maybe they'll repeat."
Talk about divine intervention for a team that's gone 15-1 since the All-Star break and enter Thursday's matchup with the Dallas Mavericks with a one-game lead for second place in the Western Conference. The topics of conversation centered on that Lakers' recent success, but also included other areas of interest. Cipriani, who played on the Peruvian national team from 1961 to 1967, said he shared his story, expressed pleasure about the Lakers' play to Kupchak, told Bryant that his competitiveness set a good example and asked Gasol how he's adjusted to life in the United States and the possibility that he could face his brother, Marc of the Memphis Grizzlies, in the playoffs. Cipriani also left open the possibility that he'd attend the Lakers' game at Staples Center on Feb. 10 against Oklahoma City.
"That's not common at all," said Bryant, who described the visit as "pretty cool." "We have people come in and want to watch [practice], but that was the first time in my 15 years that that's happened."
This also concluded a personal journey of some sorts for Gomez, who had previously served as the archbishop of San Antonio from 2004 to 2010. With his move also came a change of allegiances from a team that's currently on a four-game losing streak and holding only a three-game lead in the Western Conference to a team hoping to take their place, a true sign to him that divine intervention has taken place .
"A lot of people are praying and were telling me to switch from the Spurs to the Lakers," Gomez said. "Prayers work. Now I'm a Lakers fan. I'm also praying for the Spurs but a sign from God is that the Lakers are playing much better."
-- Mark Medina
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