by Lang Whitaker

LOS ANGELES — As I sit down to write this, I’m about 36,000 feet above middle America, winging my way toward Los Angeles for Games 1 and 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals, which tip tonight. And I just woke up from a perfectly-planned and brilliantly-executed 5 hour nap. Last year around this time, I spelled out my Travel Laws, exposing my proven travel secrets to the world, then went out and broke about half of them when Ryne and I were on our way to PHX for All-Star this year (and we got stuck spending a night in Dulles Airport). I think my Travel Laws are worth a link.

I stand by them. Much like Andrew Bynum, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and this year is no different than previous years. Over the last six months, besides living in New York City, I’ve been to Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta (three times), Orlando, Miami (twice), Denver, Phoenix, Barcelona and Dublin. And now Hell-ay, too.

I was packing last night and noticed it was about 3:00 a.m. Since I had a flight leaving at 7:00 a.m. this morning, I just stayed awake all night and broke off that epic nap. I missed breakfast, but I’m in First Class (got that free upgrade!), and being in First Class, it’s almost comical how great everything is, particularly when you’ve spent the bulk of your life flying in economy. When I boarded the plane this morning, I took my seat in economy (had the window seat on the exit row) and planned on falling asleep and being ignored by the stewardesses, except for the one time they come through and hand out drinks. Then a guy came up to me and said, “Are you in 17A?” I told him I was. He said, “I’m supposed to be in 17A.” He held out a ticket that said, “17A.”

“Great,” I told him. “I have one of those, too.”

I rang the stewardess call button, and the woman came back, made a call, seemed to be sorting things out. I felt pretty confident that I would win this battle because I have lots and lots of frequent flyer miles. I have more exponentially more frequent flyer miles than I have money. And so it was: I won one of life’s little lotteries and was selected to move on up to First Class. In First Class, as soon as I woke up, the stewardess trotted over and offered me breakfast. I considered this but passed because, ultimately, I wanted her to think I didn’t need her. Then I was forced to call her back over and I asked her for a napkin, because I fell asleep with a piece of gum in my mouth and that sucker turned into a rock while I was out. And while she was there, I ordered some coffee, too. It’s always nice to get coffee in a real mug.

I think that these will be my 7th NBA Finals I’ve attended. I know I went to at least one Finals game out in Jersey back when the Nets were good enough to make the Finals, perhaps when they played against the Lakers. I’ve been to Finals games in Jersey, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, San Antonio, Boston, Detroit and Cleveland.

FWIW, the best Finals game I’ve seen in person was Game 5 of the 2005 Finals in Detroit, which was the game where Robert Horry went and started draining all those crazy shots, then dunked on half the Pistons and the Spurs won it in overtime. Every one of Horry’s shots was more and more improbable, and by the time he pulled out that tomahawk dunk, my jaw was on the floor. And that crowd in Detroit was so into the game, but Horry single-handedly shut them all up.

My favorite Finals-related moment? Hmm. Playing golf in San Antonio in an abandoned quarry? Spending a week on the beach in Miami? Eating a brisket taco in Dallas? When I asked Shaq for a quote and he crapped on the rest of the Lakers? This is too tough to call. Just know this: I’ve had an amazing time covering the Finals the last few years.

hollywoodsignTotaling things up, I’ve been to sixteen NBA Finals games in a row. And that streak looks to be in jeopardy of ending after Game 2 of this series, mainly because I’m ready for it to end. Convincing Wifey to let me be gone, alone, for two weeks at a time each year was always a crapshoot at best. Not to mention that her birthday always comes in the middle of the Finals, so I can never fly directly from one city to the other — instead, I end up going from City 1 to New York City for one night and then on to City 2. Which sucked when going from Dallas to New York to Miami instead of just Dallas to Miami. But it all plays a part. All those trips were not fun, no, but they’re why I have so many frequent flyer miles, and they’re why I’m sitting in First Class right now. But they’re also the reason I’m kinda done with it, just worn out from too many airports and situations where I could probably catch swine flu or something.

All of that is a long way of saying that I’m doing the West Coast games this year while Ben is doing the games in Orlando. Ben wanted to do the stretch of three consecutive games, which was fine with me.

So there’s a chance that this is just my first trip to Los Angeles, that I’ll have to return in a week for a Game 6 or a Game 7 or both. I wrote the other day that I believed the Lakers have what it takes to win this thing relatively easily, and I still believe that. We’ll see if Orlando’s good enough to give me an extra 8,000 frequent flyer miles or not.

Honestly, I don’t care who wins the NBA Finals. I have zero rooting interest. I’m just hoping for a 4- or 5-game series so I don’t have to double up on the L.A. visits. If not, that’s cool, I’ll come back out here. Racking up miles the entire time, son.

Heading to the Stapler in a bit…Mutoni and I will be in the house for the game and will be liveblogging that mess, so come back here to SLAMonline.com in a bit and talk it out with us.