LOS ANGELES -- When the scoreboard camera spans the Staples Center for movie stars Monday night -- you know, the only part of the game where everybody actually pays attention -- it needs to make an extra stop.
After Jack and Denzel and Will, it needs to focus on that guy sticking his pretty smile into somebody's ribs.
His piercing eyes bulging in anger.
His sculpted jaw spewing nastiness.
The camera needs to find Rick Fox, this matinee idol with a sudden late-late show temperament.
In a room full of actors and actresses, he'll be the one working hardest.
As the Lakers attempt to win the NBA championship in Game 6 of the NBA finals against the Indiana Pacers, Fox will be playing the role of his life.
Not small forward, but goon.
''In this situation, you have to look within to find the evil that is inside of you,'' he was saying Sunday.
Impressive. Already has his lines down cold. Must have written them himself.
''It's built up, it's built up, man,'' he said. ''It builds up to the point where you can't keep it in anymore. Too much pain. Too much pain from the last two playoffs, getting stepped on and disrespected and swept out of the playoffs.
''Nice finishes last, man. I know it.''
Wow. He talked with such passion, such conviction, you could almost believe it.
Like you could almost believe Dustin in ''Tootsie.''
Fox has had an 9-year NBA career that reads like a citizenship award, including three years as one of the Lakers nicest guys and clubhouse peacemakers.
Fox was married last year to the beautiful and talented Vanessa Williams. He recently became a new father, one so dedicated he was willing to miss a playoff game against Sacramento for the birth.
Their daughter was born on a day off between games. He wore his hospital bracelet during the rest of the series in her honor, and became teary-eyed when talking about it.
It's built up?
The only thing that has built up in Rick Fox is his smarts.
He knows that the one thing the Lakers still need to scale these final peaks is toughness.
He knows that he's not contributing much in any other way.
So he figures, he can do tough.
If he needs to pick a fight with Clifford Robinson and be tossed out of a blowout game in Phoenix, so be it.
If he has to engage in a shouting match with Mike Dunleavy, whatever.
If somebody needs to get under Scottie Pippen's skin, bring it on.
But it has never been like this.
Before, he was just a little chippy. The last two months, he has been downright caustic.
''I have answered a lot of questions about this,'' Fox said. ''People have said, after being a model citizen and angel for 10 years, where does all this come from?''
Quick, now, back to the script.
''People have to realize, this time of year, when you are challenged, if you don't put your foot down, people will walk all over you,'' he said. ''After all we've been through on this team in the playoffs against Utah and San Antonio, we cannot let anyone walk on us. We have to do whatever it takes.''
And then some, apparently.
Which is the biggest problem with Fox's character.
Sometimes he overacts. While his scenes might read like ''American Beauty,'' sometimes they turn out looking like ''Ishtar.''
It was his shoving match with Scottie Pippen that brought Brian Shaw off the bench in Game 3 in Portland, landing Shaw back at the team hotel for the next game with a suspension.
It was his foul away from the ball in the final seconds of Game 4 in Indianapolis that allowed Miller to shoot -- and make -- a free throw that put the Pacers within two.
If Miller makes his next shot, Fox's new role isn't getting many raves.
Could it be that the new Fox is actually too convincing?
''The referees are now just waiting for him,'' John Salley said. ''Like they did with Dennis Rodman or Bill Laimbeer and ...''
Wait a minute. Now we're talking about Dennis Rodman?
''I'll go to the scorer's table to come into the game and one of the officials will say, 'OK, Rick, we don't want any of that stuff out there,''' Fox said. ''I'm like, 'Guys, I have known you for 10 years!''
It's one thing to play the villain. But does Fox want to keep doing it if the only team being tied to the train tracks is his own?
''If everybody plays at that level, then it's fine, then they can't single out a player,'' Phil Jackson said. ''But Rick's the only guy that plays that style of ball besides Fisher on our team. And he looks like he's an oddball out there. A fifth wheel, so to speak. That creates a situation.''
And aren't the Lakers too close to a championship to have situation?
Stepping out of character a second, Fox acknowledged that his behavior can make it easier for the Lakers' stars, much like a bunch of one-toothed guys once made things easier for Wayne Gretzky.
''We have players who can't afford to get caught up in things,'' he said. ''We don't want Shaq or Kobe getting tossed out of games. If I get tossed out of a game, it's a different situation.''
But does that make it a better one?
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