BILL PLASCHKE

From Lakers insider to food truck driver

Former equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas lost his job two years ago after 26 years with the Lakers. Jim Buss might have considered him too close to Phil Jackson.

The hand that once wrote about daily NBA schedules on a greaseboard in the Lakers' locker room now composes daily specials on a surfboard propped against a sunset-colored truck.

Kona Sunset Shrimp Tacos, two for $7.

The distinctive voice that once boomed through the halls of Staples Center now is heard from underneath a tiny window; instead of ordering Lakers players into their uniforms, it is now taking office workers' orders for lunch.

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.

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 is a partner in Sam Choy's Pineapple Express, a truck that traverses Southern California six days a week selling the creations of celebrated Hawaiian chef Sam Choy. Garciduenas, 50, drives the truck, takes the orders, and generally manages a business that is literally miles from his former life in the center of the Lakers' glamorous storms.

His past job was adorned with Laker Girls. His current job is adorned with the giant scribbled words, "More hula for your moolah."

"What I did before, it prepared me for anything," he said.

What Garciduenas did before made him almost as much a part of Lakers lore as Jack Nicholson or free tacos. With his constant appearances around the court to deal with problems such as deflated basketballs and torn socks — he actually sat on the bench during road games — this short, round guy with a goatee became as recognizable as some of the players, with a job that was often as difficult.

"I guess I was part camp counselor, part parent," 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.

Yet two summers ago, on the eve of the NBA owners' lockout and shortly after the retirement of Jackson, Garciduenas received a letter giving the details of COBRA temporary health insurance. The next day, General Manager Mitch Kupchak summoned him to his office to confirm that he was being released as a cost-saving measure.

CHICAGO