"Thanks, Kobe."


That was the message Hollywood Billiards posted on its marquee two weeks ago after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs for only the fourth time since the team came to Los Angeles in 1960.


The All-Star guard has taken the blame from fans and the media for driving center Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson out of town, but the decline in business resulting from the team's poor showing is what really upset sports bar's owner Jeff Bey.


"It's been devastating to (our) numbers," he said. "You could hide bodies in this place."


The days of attracting 500 customers for a Lakers NBA Finals game and up to 200 for a regular season game are already a distant memory.


For a game last week against the Phoenix Suns, who have replaced the Lakers atop the Western Conference, Bey drew a crowd of 20 to 30 fewer than the 40 television sets and big screens lining its walls.


Bey isn't the only business owner crying in his beer.


With the Clippers also struggling and the National Hockey League's lockout wiping out the Kings' season, sports bars, sportswear retailers and restaurants across Los Angeles have had a slow winter.


* The full version of this story is available in the April 18 edition of the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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