We all have favorites‑favorite office holders (fewer these days), favorite uncles and aunts, favorite judges (the most evanescent category), favorite judicial opinions. Oh, I almost forgot, favorite columnists. Let’s narrow the field to Daily Journal columnists‑all favorites.
Columnists cannot be sure who reads their column. That is less the case when it comes to judicial opinions. Attorneys and judges on all courts are compelled to read them. Readers can fume privately or publicly about the merits of the opinion, but generally they read under compulsion. It’s different with columnists. We may have what is called a “readership,” and we do get our share of emails or missives of praise or criticism. The latter I try to handle with equanimity.
When one is a columnist for a professional legal journal like the Daily Journal, one expects the readers to be in the field of law. I mean how many entomologists read my column or any other column in the Daily Journal? I have heard, however, from a few etymologists. The experience was not all that pleasant.
But one never knows. Take basketball star Kobe Bryant, for example. Several years ago I was at the local car wash waiting in line to pay my bill. Even though I was looking straight ahead, I became aware of a looming presence behind me. I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a belt buckle. I craned my neck upwards and had to bend backwards to see that it was Kobe Bryant. I wasn’t going to bother him and ask some silly question that a star struck fan might pose. I turned around and tried to act nonchalant despite the Tower of Pisa leaning behind me. I paid my bill, went outside, and sat on a stone bench while I watched the energetic employees work on my car.
As it turned out, Kobe sat next to me. He spread his “things” out next to my “things.” Not sure why I put “things” in quotes. What should I say, “paraphernalia”? Naw… too… formal. And “stuff” too… informal. “Things” means… well, things, like cell phones, a pad on which to jot thoughts… for maybe a column, a small case in which to put whatever. I detest “whatever.” Just sharing with you the “things” columnists worry about.
So I moved my things out of the way to make room for Kobe’s things. In doing so, our eyes met. Of course my head was tilted as far back as it could go and my chin was thrust in an uncomfortable upward position. It seemed at that point appropriate to say something. At that time Kobe was building a palatial home on a hill in the neighborhood. The local papers had reported that the plans called for a full size basketball court in the basement. For some reason beyond my ken, some neighbors objected to the basketball court. Their view would not be obstructed because the house was on the top of the hill with nothing to obstruct. So I said, “So how’s the house going?” Kobe smiled, and said it was a pain or maybe “a pain in the ass.” We chatted briefly about trivial things, what semanticists refer to as “pre-symbolic” language. His car was ready and he said goodbye. Hmmm, it just occurred to me that I was in line first, but his car was ready before mine. Oh well. A group of kids gathered around him and he signed a few autographs and left.
The reason I mention Kobe Bryant in the middle of a column about favorite columnists is that it never occurred to me to ask Kobe if he had ever read my column. In fact, I never ask anyone that question. But were I to ask such an obnoxious, self-centered question, I would not pose it to, of all people, Kobe Bryant.
Neither would I pose that question to his rival and one-time teammate, Shaquille O’Neal. Last week at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the unveiling of a bronze statue of Shaq. It is 9 feet tall and weighs 1,200 pounds, a replica close to the actual person. And Kobe was there to wish him well despite their past rivalry. Age mellows… sometimes. By the way, I forgot to mention. Shaq read my column. I cannot say he reads my columns, but I know for sure he read one.
It happened years ago when the Lakers lost one of their games to the Sacramento Kings at the Western Conference finals. After the game, Shaq, who was unhappy with questionable calls from the referees, said that the only way to beat the Lakers “starts with a C and ends with a T.” So, of course, that reminded me of footnote 2 in People v. Arno (1979) 90 Cal.App.3d 505, 514. I wrote about this in a column in 2002 and suggested that Shaq’s word game reflected a poor loser. I said the answer to the puzzle was not what Shaq intended, but what I thought was more appropriate, “Cheap Shot.”
Of course, I wasn’t worried that Shaq would read the column and come to Division 6 and dribble me around the courthouse. But one morning during our conference prior to oral argument, my colleagues placed before me a large manila envelope. They watched me open it and, as I recall, took a picture of my reaction to what was in the envelope. It was a copy of my column about Shaq. Written above the heading was: “Gilbert J., what makes you think I don’t read your column? Shaq # 34.”
The truth is that Shaq read the column because it was given to him. My friend and colleague Justice Elwood Lui at that time was a lawyer and a member of the Harbor Commission. Shaq, who has an interest in law enforcement, was then a reserve officer in the Harbor police department. He wanted to get together and have lunch with Justice Lui and me. Our lunch never took place. Before we could agree on a date, Shaq left for the Miami Heat.
So to my Daily Journal fellow columnists (who I read regularly and admire ‑ Chemerinsky, Hoffstadt, Balabanian, Kessler, Moskovitz, Kanner, Lawton, Connor, Berger, and others, whom I will recall after publication and kick myself for not mentioning), you never know who will be reading your insights and wisdom. It could be someone from an entirely different profession or line of endeavor. It could even be someone like Shaquille O’Neal, who as I already mentioned, read one of my columns. Of course it’s not a big deal or anything… but I wonder… you think maybe he gave my column to Kobe?
And farewell to friend John Van de Kamp. He used his considerable skills to help others as a public office holder and lawyer. John set the standard for the person we yearn to have in government, a legacy that will endure.