Redeem Team: Lakers Return to Greatness

 Kobe and family

***Memo to The Godfather: this is my last NBA Finals post. 

As I sat thinking about my view of the Lakers return to The Promised Land hours after their deciding Game 5 victory, I realized that I enjoyed the Lakers most recent success for different reasons.  Normally I am just fan.  The Lake Show has been my favorite for 30 years: win or lose.  

I enjoyed Magic’s five championships, and the return of Laker greatness with Shaq and Kobe.  There was something about this championship that got to me on a more human level though.  I connected with some of the players and coaches that I have watched over the years and felt good for their success.  I can tell by listening to them between games, in interviews etc. how much it meant to be at the top when the dust of the season settles.  

This is especially compelling when I consider the fact that most of our sports heroes make a tremendous amount of money and enjoy a level of fame that gives them privileges that most of us couldn’t imagine.  It makes me appreciate their commitment to excellence that much more. 

Then there is the defense against “hateration.”  In a way, the Lakers are compared to the Yankees for a societal theme that many people hate Goliath and cheer for the underdog.  I never agreed with the premise of, “I’m tired of seeing the Atlanta  Braves in the playoffs every year.  Why don’t they let someone else in it.”  In my opinion as long as no one is cheating dynasties are good for sports.  Excellence is something to be modeled.  Personally I don’t think the Yankees always spend their money wisely, but I respect that George Steinbrenner wants to win the World Series every freaggin year.

In my years as a Laker man, I’ve noticed that like many other dynasties people either love or hate them.  There is no middle ground.  When it comes to the more recent players, guys like Shaquille O’Neal were accepted because he was sort of a goof ball.  But cats like Kobe Bryant are horrifically crucified by Laker haters as a man who doesn’t have so much as a soul.  Part of that I think was his fault because he had a bit of a swag that people didn’t understand.  He came from a different country and became a superstar in a beloved American sport.  He had to compete with the likes of guys like Allen Iverson who sold more shoes than he did and Kobe tried to get street cred by not being himself.  He wasn’t a thug like A.I.  He was a sophisticated phenom who lived in Italy and traveled the world when kids like Iverson had barely left Hampton VA before going to Georgetown.  But he grew impatient and tried to be someone he wasn’t.  He didn’t come across well and youth was a part of that.  I think he wanted to do the right things.  But, but he didn’t have the maturity level and ability to bring people with him.  He isolated himself and when he caught that case in Colorado, it didn’t resonate with people to offer much empathy.

When you look at him now, I think he has come full circle in understanding the balance one has to have with being a mega star athlete driven beyond the level of most top level athletes, and being a person who can give and receive love and trust from others.  It seems like ages ago when Phil Jackson wrote that book about Kobe being uncoachable.  But over the last few seasons he has really grown up and I am happy to see that.  I love seeing redemptive qualities in people.  So I will put him as one of the people I am truly happy for in winning this championship. 

Kobe Bryant– for all the reasons I mentioned above.  Kobe is not just a basketball player anymore.  He is a man.  A respectable man with a beautiful family.  He teammates love him and I think he loves them back.  No more talk about him not winning without Shaq – which was ridiculous in itself cause it ain’t like Shaq led the Heat to the championship though he did run Stan Van Gundy in the middle of the season.  No,  that was pretty much Dwayne Wade killing the Dallas Mavericks in 2006.  Shaq was along for the ride.  Kobe was the man already, the best player in the league regardless of what “The Logo” Jerry West said.  This really puts his legacy in place regardless of whatever happens in his career from this day forward.  This team was horrible just a few years ago.  They were smashed in Game 6 against the Celtics last year.  And they redeemed themselves on the shoulders of their most talented player.  Kobe was the leader of the team in every sense of the word – including leading by example everyday.  I am sure he will remain classy during the offseason and we won’t be hearing any free style raps at local LA clubs where Kobe goes with a “Yo Shaq, tell me how my ass taste!” blast.

Derek Fisher– What can you say about D-Fish?  When I visited Staples in February to see the Lakers play the Hornets on my birthday, Kobe had his 39 but it was Fisher who hit the game tying three pointer to send the game into overtime as regulation expired. This guy has been through a lot since he left the Lakers years ago after their first three championships.  He played up north with the Golden State Warriors, then the Utah Jazz before his daughter became seriously ill.  Eventually the Jazz released him so that he could re-sign with the Lakers and be in a city where they had the medical facilities to treat his child.  Big ups to the late Jazz owner Larry Miller for that classy move.  Fisher is a business man, a hard core example of professionalism.  He’s a players rep with the NBA players association and has represented nothing but class during his entire NBA career.  This cat is so serious he put Luis Scola, a man almost twice his size on his ass and missed a playoff game just to send a message.  Remember that? How can you NOT be happy for this guy. 

Trophy

 Phil Jackson– This guy is hated on more than any other coach in basketball history.  The first thing people say is that he coached Jordan, then Kobe and Shaq.  Well I got three things to say about that.  For one, Jordan, Kobe and Shaq didn’t win a damn thing before he started coaching them.   Two, I have never seen a team with average players win any NBA championships.  I do remember after Jordan retired the first time, Jackson took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals and was one Hugh Hollins phantom call that put Hubert Davis of the Knicks on the free throw line away from going to the Finals without MJ.  Three, when you look at a guy like Red Auerbach, hell he coached more Hall of Fame players than any other coach in the history of the game toward his 9 championship wins.  But you never hear anyone say, “Red had that damn Russell, Cousy, Jo Jo White, Sam Jones, and Havlicek – So how was he going to lose?”  No one said Doc Rivers couldn’t coach when his teams weren’t winning crap in Boston before they got Allen and Garnett to help Paul Pierce.  Think about this, in 10 NBA Finals victories Jackson’s teams have never gone to a Game 7 and have won deciding games on the courts of my Lakers, the Jazz, 76ers, Nets, and now the Magic.  To me that sounds like there is a lot of good coaching and preparation going on before the games.

Why is Phil criticized so much?  Because he is just smooth with his game.  He doesn’t scream at his players like Stan Van Gundy.  It’s not sexy television.  He has this anti-establishment tone to him.  It’s like he loves the game of basketball, is hyper competitive to be the best, but understands that it’s still a game and that there is more to life.  This is the same guy who after the Lakers won their third championship rode his motorcycle from Los Angeles to his ranch in Montana as a way to come down from the grind.  But look at the results.  He is his own man and that is why he left Chicago after their 6th championship.  Jerry Krause didn’t like the attention Phil got.  Phil didn’t give a flip anymore.  He gets it.  His players don’t tune him out, and his assistant coaches have remained loyal and stayed with him throuought his career.  And dammit he passed Red Auerbach.  Ten championships is ten championships.  Period.

I could go on talking about how I am happy too that Pau Gasol redeemed himself after having his manhood taken against the Celtics last year.  I called him Pau Gasoft.  Not anymore!  Or how Lamar Odom stepped it up when it counted and earned himself a ring.  I know they appreciate this.  Guys like Trevor Ariza don’t quite understand how hard it is to get to this place year in and year out.  He’s only 24.  But he played his ass off too and is about to get paid!

Mitch Kupchak got from underneath Jerry West’s shadow.  And his trade for Gasol was the reason why.  That is geting it done. 

So its for these reasons, the human factor to borrow a phrase as to why this championship for me means a little more.  Players are human too.  And though I don’t know these guys personally, I can still see some of the history, the background, the hard work, commitment and most of all the soul of the men who show that in spite of the multi-million dollar salaries, winning and winning the right way still means something.  It’s a great example for our youth.  It’s a great example for the nation.  It’s part of why I love sports.  Not merely for the sake of the sport.  But for the way sports brings people together, give of their talents, and sacrifice selfish motivation in order to accomplish a goal together

Congratulations 2008-2009 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers!  You earned it!

Phil Jackson pregame

 

 

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NBA Finals, Conspiracies, Legends, and Has Been Bitches

Derek Fisher, Jameer Nelson

Last night’s game was memorable to say the least.  D-Fish gets all the credit in the world for hitting those two big threes.  Trevor Ariza really stepped his game up in the third quarter.  Kobe missed a lot of shots but the ones he hit kept the team from getting blown out when the rest of the guys were struggling.  But there were some other things that really bothered me that I have to say.  I say these things because others in the media won’t.  They are afraid to.  I’m not.  I have no stake in this thing other than being a devoted fan of the Lakers and an even bigger fan of the game of basketball. 

I tell people all the time.  “Yea LA has been my team since 1979.  Whether they were up or down.  If they play great they play great.  If they suck they suck.  I don’t say they are great or got cheated when they sucked.”  I am as hard on them as anybody.  The point being that I am no fair weather guy.  Even in the midst of this series part of my fan apprehension of the team is wondering what team would show up on a given night.  Would it be the inept team that showed up in the first half of last night’s game missing assignments and making mental mistakes?  Or that third quarter team that showed a level of hunger that matches their talent?  Either way I don’t deceive myself about what is before me.

I say all of that to say this.  If I wasn’t sure before, now I know without question that on occasions the NBA officiating is either corrupted by instruction of the league or of the gamblers.  Let me explain. 

While everyone is caught up in Fisher’s heroics and rightfully so, the Lakers were in a situation where the game was almost impossible to win.  Consider this: 

While the Magic went to the free throw line time after time in the fourth quarter, the Magic were not called for a single foul in the fourth quarter until the last two minutes.  This was not a situation where the Lakers were only shooting jump shots.  To the contrary Kobe himself went to the rack several times and got plenty of contact with no whistle. Eventually he just went with the fade away shots.  Meanwhile, Hedo,  and Howard went to the line with regularly and Pietrus got an “And 1”  opportunity (a good call) on a drive against Bryant. 

Let’s add it up on this level.  Of the last 17 minutes of the game, including overtime, the Magic had a total of three fouls called on them, and the only Laker to see the free throw line was Pau Gasol after a flagrant foul at the end of the game.  Meanwhile, during the first two periods, Gasol, Bynum (or Lord Bynum) and Odom quickly got into foul trouble.  The Lakers were sporting a front line of Mbenga and Powell in the second quarter for god-sake.   The first foul on Bynum in the first quarter was a play where Kobe clearly made contact with Howard, but Andrew got the foul.  OK no biggie.  But the foul Bynum got in the second half when he and Howard were tipping a lose ball was flat out ridiculous.  Not only was there no contact between the players, Bynum had the inside position.  The only reason the Lakers were in a position to tie the game was because Orlando turned the ball over 19 times and missed most of their crucial free throws.  The officials did everything they could to hand them the game.  The Magic just couldn’t take it. 

Lamar Odom foul call

Now look, I am an official and I know that we all miss calls.  So maybe Kobe goes to the hole and doesn’t get the call.  There are times when I don’t make a call and say to myself afterwards, “I missed that one. ” But the thing is, as an official you don’t keep missing them.  I also understand that at time teams get calls on their home court.  But for the Magic to be in the penalty five minutes into the final period and the Lakers not to get a call their way until the clock was under 2 minutes was shameful. 

I honstly felt sick to my stomach watching that game.  Because my love for NBA basketball took a hard fall while sitting in front of that TV.  Even as the Lakers climbed back in the game and eventually won it, as much as I have celebrated and cried for my team even as a youngster, I could only think that in spite of the NBA wanting to extend the series, justice was served as the Lakers fought their way to victory.  There was no smile on my face, only contempt. 

I get that there is an entertainment level to the game.  No one wants to see superstar players leave the game in foul trouble.  I get that.  Still for me win or lose, there has to be a purity to the game.  Players should decide the outcome.  Calls will be missed, mistakes made by players, coaches and officials.  The Lakers have benefited from such mistakes too in times past.  Last night it was so blatant it was just ugly.  I thought to myself  that I may not even watch the rest of the series.  I would like to see the Lakers take it home.  But I know this for sure.  I won’t look at the NBA the same anymore after last night. 

The Lakers won’t say anything because miraculously they won the game.  But don’t think they don’t understand what went down. I don’t know that Orlando will get the help they just got though they have another home game on Sunday.  It wouldn’t surprise me either way.  But I’m just saying.

BB&G’s Random Rants

We know that coach Phil Jackson is trying to win his 10th NBA title as a coach.  But for some reason NBA has-been Alonzo Mourning thought it his place to say that Phil doesn’t do anything but show up while Kobe does the coaching.  This from a man who played 15 years in the NBA and didn’t win nothing until he rode the coattail of Dwayne Wade in 2006.  He seems to point to Kobe talking to players and showing them things on the diagram to make points during timeouts.  But as I recall every great team has facilitators and leaders who are coaches on the floor.  I remember Magic and Michael doing it back in the day.  Isaiah did it with the Pistons.  Chauncey Billups is the ultimate example of that.  But just because he was an extension of the coach I didn’t hear anybody saying that Larry Brown just showed up and called timeouts.  Or that George Karl doesn’t have anything to offer.   Phil is surely secure with himself so he makes fun of Zo’s being a bitch.  I guess that little play Phil drew up taking the ball out past half court so the Magic wouldn’t foul right away before Fisher’s three was Kobe’s idea too. Whatever.

Random Rants 2

I love me some Bill Russell.  Greatest NBA winner ever and a true statesman.  But WTF is up with him showing up at the last couple NBA Finals sucking up to the Lakers opponents big men.  Last year it was KG, which is understandable because it was the Celtics.  But this little feature with Dwight Howard was just ridiculous.  I mean what relationship does he have to the Magic?  Just that they are trying to beat the Lakers and if they were to beat the Lakers it would prevent Phil Jackson from surpassing Russell’s coach Red Auerbach in championship trophies?  I mean if the Cavs were in it would he be schmoozing with Anderson Varejao or Big Z?  I thought that was kinda whack.  Red’s place is cemented in history.  But these haters can’t take nothing away from Phil.  Talk about Jordan, Kobe and Shaq all you want.  But take one look at all of the hall of famers that Red coached and then get back at me on that.  A coach has to know how to work what he has.

Speaking of coaches.  What is up with Cleveland jerking Mike Brown around?  If this guy’s job isn’t safe this year, that shows that LeBron really has their management team shook.  I know ya’ll have to sign “The King” and all… but don’t be so fickle.  Have some balls at least and show some freaggin loyalty.  With this talk of Pat Riley Dan Gilbert is starting to remind me of Dan Snyder.

Magic Shoot Well, Eeek Out Game 3

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol

I can’t offer much commentary on this game.  I was umpiring a baseball game so I only saw the last quarter when I stopped by a Buffalo Wild Wings down the street from the ballpark. 

From what I hear the Magic got back on track shooting wise, and got a little of their swag back in the process.   Kobe was hot hitting some ridiculous shots and then quickly turned cold. 

I won’t find out much more than that because whether the Lakers win or lose I tend not to watch much coverage between games.  There is too much talking and over analyzing for me as commentators dissect every part of the game and speak fatalistically for the losing team.  The game is just the game.  It can turn with little things like shots going in.  The same people throwing dirt on Orlando’s grave will now speak as if the Lakers are on the brink of elimination.

These are pros.  But it’s still a game played by humans so you never know.  I know that’s not sexy but anything else is fantasy. 

Barring a rainout on Thursday, I should at least get to catch the next game by halftime by the latest.

Lakers Up 2-0, Series Heads to Florida

Courtney Lee, Pau Gasol

Lots will be said about Courtney Lee missing on the lob at the end of regulation and I think it’s unfair to put it all on him.  The Magic have other issues and part of those issues are the fact that the Lakers are playing very well overall.  There will be other opportunities for them when the series shifts to Orlando tomorrow.  The play called by Stan Van Gundy was genius.  Kobe Bryant said it best when he was asked what went through his mind as he saw the play develop in what could have resulted in a series tie.  “Shit.”

Rashard Lewis was in full effect.  But Lamar Odom put the D down in the fourth quarter and into overtime with 5 fouls when it counted. 

Speaking of fouls; will someone please free Andrew Bynum who can’t get a break?  It’s as if the refs don’t want this guy to play when you see the calls they make on him as it compares to the other big men.

I have to give the Lakers credit.  Though Orlando made some good adjustments in getting their shooters open, their effort was there pretty much the entire game.   Odom was active getting boards and scoring when needed.  Gasol was dialed in and D-Fish is D-Fish again.  Even if Lee had convereted, I still would have been happy with the effort and confident in the direction of the series overall.

Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant

Big win for the Lakers because even though the series is going back East, the Magic cannot win the series in Orlando.  In addition, they will have to beat the Lakers 4 out of the next 5 games.  This seems unlikely with Los Angeles having the final two games in Staples.

The Lakers took care of their business at home.   Orlando will come out with a lot of energy as they feed from their home crowd.  The Lakers could all but end this on Tuesday.  Old school conservative thinking is to get one of the three in Orlando.  But if they can press their way and manage to get game 3, look for the broom.

Kobe, Lakers Make A Statement!

Kobe Bryant, J.J. Reddick

Ok.  So the start was quite impressive.  Kobe played more angry than I’ve ever seen and he was focused from start to finish.  There are a few reasons why I think this is happening.  But I will keep that under the lid for now.  I want to see how he plays the rest of the series to test my theories. 

But what can you say about his 18 point third quarter.  His energy, speed and skill set was just superior.  I can’t say I am amazed cause it’s him.  But I can say I am extremely impressed in understanding that nobody does it like he does.  NOBODY!  He was the Amazing Thing Happening.

What I enjoyed about the victory most of all was not that it was a blowout.  Blowing out a veteran team like the Celtics did in 1985 against the Lakers in the famed Memorial Day Massacre is one thing.  Guys like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy were going to respond no question.  The Lakers won that series in 6.  I don’t know if the Magic have that mentality and sometimes you know how this version of the Lake Show tend to not show up at times. 

To that point what happened last night was that the Team LA never let up off the pedal for one possession neither offensively or defensively.  They didn’t even allow the Magic to gain any confidence by making a small run at the end of the fourth quarter to take with them into the next game.  I have always said about this team that if they play this hard and focused every night they are easily THE best team in the NBA.  Even if the Magic had connected on more of those 3’s that they were hoisting, LA would have still won by 15. 

There is a lot more basketball to be played.  For the Lakers to get Game 2 would really put something on Orlando’s mind.  If the Magic could steal game 2, they will forget all about the blowout.  I hope my team understands that.