Welcome to Sam Choy’s Pineapple Express, may I help you? Rudy Garciduenas was one of the most sturdy and respected links on the Lakers’ food chain. Today he works in a food truck. For 26 years, through Showtime and Shaq’s Time and Kobe’s Team, Garciduenas served as the Lakers’ equipment manager, one of the few reliable constants in a sea of locker-room change. Two seasons after losing his job in a purge of staff members who were close to departed coach Phil Jackson, he has traded a life of passing out uniforms to one of passing out Brah Barbeque Pork Sandwiches for $8 each. His story is an old one, and a new one. It is the time-worn Hollywood tale of the fleeting existence of those who serve the stars. Yet it uniquely involves an organization that was long run like a family, a Lakers culture that has slowly chilled since the benevolent late Jerry Buss placed its basketball operations in the hands of son Jim.
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Garciduenas, who was laid off in June 2011 with nearly 20 other longtime employees, including training staff members and an assistant general manager, learned of his departure when he received a letter about temporary insurance. He received no severance pay. There was no farewell party. He spent the next year living off unemployment and retirement funds. He came close to selling some of his valuable Lakers memorabilia to make ends meet but finally worked his way into this truck. On a recent afternoon on a narrow Hollywood street surrounded by post-production studios, Garciduenas could be found serving lunch to a long line of office workers with his same trademark Lakers smile and good humor, one bit of his Lakers past missing. He has seven NBA championship rings — one more than Michael Jordan, two more than Kobe Bryant — yet he never wears one to work. “I’d rather not end up with teriyaki sauce all over them,” he said.
Garciduenas was the guy in charge of procuring and maintaining a selection of Shaquille O’Neal’s size-23 shoes. To illustrate the uniqueness of such footwear, he would occasionally wear one of Shaq’s shoes on his head. In appreciation of his work, O’Neal helped him buy a truck whose license plates eventually read, “THNX SHAQ.” Garciduenas was the guy who purchased and transported the special high chair that creaky Phil Jackson would require on the bench. He was the guy running for the white towel to cover up Robert Horry when a broken drawstring dropped his pants to his knees in Sacramento. He was the guy hurriedly stitching the corners of a name onto a jersey of a hastily acquired player and praying they would not fall off until a seamstress arrived the next day to make them permanent. “We all love Rudy, all of us; you can’t find a single person who doesn’t love the guy,” Lakers spokesman John Black said.