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Just what we needed: another O.J. spectacle

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WASHINGTON — Welcome back, Juice. It's so nice to have you once again where you belong, at the center of a world-class, spare-no-expense, fuel-the-helicopters media frenzy. You may be a few years older and a few pounds heavier, but you haven't lost a step.

Just like last time, you're the central figure in a true-crime melodrama with a glamorous setting, vivid characters and top-shelf production values. Like the true star that you are, you've already exercised your prerogative to steal the best line for yourself, telling a reporter recently: "I thought what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas."

Actually, you're taking all the good lines. "I'm O.J. Simpson," you said in that same interview with the Los Angeles Times. "How am I going to think that I'm going to rob somebody and get away with it?"

Um, I think the question pretty much answers itself, Juice. Like broken-field running and hurtling through airports, getting away with it is considered one of your supreme talents. Not that you've ever been convicted of murder, I have to point out for the record. But come on. I think we can at least conclude that Orenthal James Simpson believes he is entitled to quite a bit more latitude than that accorded to mere mortals.

In this case, O.J. is alleged to have rounded up a small posse of accomplices — two of whom are alleged to have been carrying firearms — and barged into a Las Vegas hotel room to demand that two dealers in sports memorabilia hand over items that Simpson insists are rightfully his.

What seems to be an audiotaped recording of the encounter, which was obtained by the celebrity-scandal Web site TMZ.com, begins with a voice that sounds like Simpson's announcing the agenda: "Don't let nobody out of this room. ... Think you can steal my (expletive) and sell it?"

The items in question that Simpson wanted back from dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong are said to include Simpson's Pro Football Hall of Fame certificate, a photograph of him with J. Edgar Hoover, video from his first wedding and assorted signed photos and such.

The mere-mortal thing for Simpson to do would have been to call the police. But Simpson rejected that pedestrian course of action. "The police, since my trouble, have not worked out for me," he told The Associated Press. "It just becomes a story about O.J."

So now, it's a story about O.J. in jail — facing seven felony charges, including robbery with a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary with a deadly weapon. And if the case ever gets to trial, Johnnie Cochran isn't around anymore to tell the jury, "If the stuff belonged to the Juice, you must let him loose." Or maybe, "If O.J. didn't aim the gun, you must let him run."

One thing no one has suggested so far — though I'm sure Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, will get around to it — is that O.J.'s interest in the disputed items was sentimental. It was almost surely pecuniary: Sports memorabilia is a $2 billion-a-year industry, according to a PBS report earlier this year. And what else does the Juice have in the way of saleable assets or earning potential?

Any conventional income Simpson receives is subject to seizure by the families of murder victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, since Simpson was found liable for their deaths in a civil case. Goldman's family will even receive the proceeds from the sale of Simpson's avowedly fictional account of the 1994 slayings, "If I Did It" — whose publication coincides eerily with Simpson's current troubles with the law, as if we were witnessing some sort of karmic perfect storm.

Yet Simpson manages to maintain what looks like a more-than-comfortable lifestyle. It's not hard to imagine all kinds of complex third-party transactions and arrangements he might have to make to keep himself financially solvent. In any event, Simpson has reportedly said he had dealt with Beardsley and Fromong, the men he allegedly threatened, in the past.

At least no one was killed this time. The charges Simpson faces are serious enough to send him to prison for a long time — and the circus surrounding his arrest is, for me, a brief respite from the real news: Iraq. Iran. Subprime. Darfur. Global warming.

Every once in a while, we — or at least I — welcome a good, old-fashioned, personality-driven narrative to wallow in. So thanks, Juice.

Whenever you're ready, cue the low-speed chase.

Eugene Robinson's e-mail address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com. Syndicated by Washington Post Writers Group.