Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani and Archbishop Jose Gomez visited the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice session on March 30, meeting with the team and talking basketball with the players.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Lima, a former player on the Peruvian national basketball team, found he had common ground with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.
“Kupchak and Cipriani spoke,” archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg, who was at the event, told CNA. “They determined that they knew players in common whom they played against in international competition. I think that’s what kept Kupchak there for so long. He and Cipriani were really talking basketball.”
The two archbishops witnessed a full-court scrimmage and also had one-on-one conversations with Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, forward Pau Gasol and coach Phil Jackson.
The conversations centered on the Lakers’ recent success, which include a division championship and a 15-1 winning streak. However, the cardinal also talked about his own time in the sport. He was on Peru’s national team from 1961 to 1967.
“When I see basketball practices, I lose about 30 or 40 years (off my life),” Cardinal Cipriani, 67, told the Los Angeles Times. He said he talked basketball offense and defense with Kupchak.
“We offered them some prayers so they could finish a good tournament,” he continued. “They're doing really well in these last games and hopefully they'll be ready for the playoffs. Maybe they'll repeat.”
The cardinal told Bryant that his competitiveness set a good example and asked the Spanish-born Gasol how he has adjusted to life in the United States.
Bryant said the visit was uncommon and “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,” he said.
Cardinal Cipriani was able to make the visit because he was in Los Angeles to travel with Archbishop Gomez to Rome for a meeting of the Pontifical Council for Latin America.
Archbishop Gomez, who was installed as Archbishop of Los Angeles in February, had been a San Antonio Spurs fan from his time as archbishop in Texas.
“It was a perfect opportunity for us to come and enjoy the practice of the Lakers,” he said. He reported that the prayers for him to switch his allegiance to the Lakers have worked.
“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,” he said.
The Lakers were “very gracious” to invite the archbishop and the cardinal, Tamberg said. People “gravitated” towards the two churchmen once they knew who they were.
“One person within the Lakers organization came up with a rosary and asked the archbishop to bless it,” Tamberg said. “They had a nice little conversation. It was one of those small moments where the Church is present.”
Archbishop Gomez is “a big basketball fan.” When he announced in his first homily as Archbishop of Los Angeles that he had become a Lakers fan, the news went around the city quickly.
Tamberg explained that the archbishop’s ministry was related to the visit.
“Archbishop Gomez is the Archbishop of all of Los Angeles, and that means he should be equally at home in any environment in this city. Certainly the Lakers are part of that.”
He added that the Church can be present in many different places.
“This time it was at a practice. They were able to have fun and enjoy a chance to see the Lakers practice. At the same time, their presence speaks of the Church’s universality. The Church can be everywhere and should be everywhere. You never know where the points of contact are going to be.”