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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Balls Up! Punks Down! Testicular Fortitude Awards

Everyone who knows me knows that I am an avid Los Angeles Lakers fan.  Since 1980 I have referred to the team in WE terms not they.  If the Lakers won then “we” won… and if the Lakers lost “we” lost.  Many die hard fans have blind spots and are not able to critically assess their favorite team and its performance.  Yea guys call radio shows and second guess this or that – but I am talking about straight out rebuke when necessary.  I have never been that guy.  Win or lose I tell it like it is.  If the ref’s had a bad night I’ll be the first to say that.  If “we” play a team that’s just better than us then I cop to that too.  And in this case, if “we” all out sucked I’ll say that too.  This was definitely the case as I watched that debacle of a basketball game in Boston Tuesday night.  My Lakers started the game – well Kobe started the game being aggressive and it looked as if it may be a nice 6 which the Celtics were favored to win.  But once the second quarter started – all Celtic-Hell broke loose and soon my beloved purple and gold team were rolling over like Rover and played dead.  I shook my head in disgust as the Celtics “toyed” with the Western Conference Champions and ran a clinic on our asses. 

Thus the Balls Up Punks Down Testicular Fortitude awards.  I mean listen, sometimes its not about Xs and Os.   By game 6 of the Finals, both teams know each others players and plays.  It becomes an issue of executing the game plan – which often comes down to forcing your will over the opponents.  Simply put it’s about NUTS, Balls, who has them and who doesn’t.  Its not about getting your butt kicked in a game cause that happens.  Previously in another blog I talked about the Memorial Day Massacre in 1985.  It was an issue of the Celtics being a hot team where everything they did turned to gold.  But it was not as if the Lakers lacked balls or will.  They fought and came up short – but came back to win the series.  This was not the case on Tuesday night.

Let me be clear – the Celtics deserved to win.  Overall they proved to be the better team.  But what pissed me off more than anything was the fact that our players were so freaggin SOFT.   It started with Pau GaSOFT, who made Kendric Perkins look like Bill Russell defending him in the post.  GaSOFT was so timid he looked as if he panicked every time he touched the ball in the post.  Then there was Vladimir RadmoNOSHOT – who looked more like he was trying to crack the Boston Bricklayers Union for a job this summer.  Sasha VuiSHIT was awful too.  Though he helped LA to a victory in game 3 by, it all feel to the ground in game 4 when Ray Allen waltz past his ass for an easy bucket down the stretch when it counted the most.  That was vintage stereotypical European defense at its worst. 

Back to game 6…  It was sad to see coach Phil Jackson beg his team not to “give it away” at halftime.  But boy did they ever!  The second half was more of the same – and it ended with a 131-92 ghetto project beat down.  Tuesday night the Lakers simply “gave up the booty” – and Boston took it with no vaseline!  They wanted it more – and they earned it.   They went after the Lakers like the Leonidis went after the Persians in “300!”  I think I saw Kevin Garnett scream out SPARTAN!!!!!!!!! 

Gerard Butler as Leonidas in Warner Bros. Pictures' 300

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not throwing my cats under the bus totally.  They deserve credit for winning the toughest division in basketball.  When nobody thought they would make it this far they swept the Denver Nuggets, Beat Utah in 6 games including closing them out in Salt Lake City – one of the toughest places to win at any time.  Then they beat the World Champion Spurs in 5 games.  These were impressive feats and they deserve props for sure.  They had Gasol but no Andrew Bynum who was having a great year in the middle.  The Lakers should and will make some changes to get a bit tougher.  Game 6 does not take away from the great year they had.  But still it was a disgraceful effort.

So congratulations to Paul, Kevin and coach Doc Rivers.  Balls Up for the Celtics – Punks down for the Lakers.

Our second Balls Up award goes to Eldrick Tiger Woods.  This cat comes has knee surgery on tax day in April to remove cartilage from his knee, suffered a double stress fracture of his left tibia while trying to return in reading to the PGA tournament last month, missed The Memorial and shows up at the US Open in Torrey Pines -forces a playoff against Rocco Mediate – Then wins on Monday for his 14th career major after 91 holes on the largest course in US Open history.   “What the…??”  In severe pain this dude does the last 18 holes and out-shoots his opponent – only to have to have ACL surgery a couple days later which will cause him to miss the rest of the year.  I say again… “What the…?”  Talk about a champion!  This was like Jordan when he had the flu in Utah and scored 38 against the Jazz in the Finals while having an IV hooked up to him during half the game.  I hope Tiger waits and rehabs his injuries properly.  Cause when he comes back, he will have such a psychological advantage over the rest of the field – that he will break every record left in the sport of golf and amaze anyone who had any doubts to the contrary.  Balls UP Tiger.  Yourrrrrrrr GREAT!

The pain Tiger Woods felt in his knee during the U.S. Open was caused by a stress fracture he suffered two weeks before the major tournament while rehabilitating from surgery.

Our last Punks Down award goes to New York Mets GM Omar Minaya who fired Willie Randolph in Anaheim earlier this week.  Much speculation has surrounded Willie’s job as manager both this and last season.  After Sunday’s home game the Randolph had a meeting with Minaya that if he were going to fire him, please do it now and not humiliate him by sending he and his crew to the West Coast.  Minaya gave Willie the impression his job was safe.  Then Minaya flew to Anaheim himself under the radar, called Randolph to his hotel suite and pink slipped the dude just before 3:15 am.  This after a victory over the Angels and after the Mets had won 3 of 4.   Every organization has a right to hire and fire as they see fit for the betterment of the organization… still the way business is handled is just as important and reflects the class or lack thereof of an organization.  Clearly Minaya lacked class in the way he handled his first managerial hire.  Word now is that interim manager Jerry Manual is a front office pawn, the team is a mess and Minaya may very well be the next one to get pushed on a sword before Spring Training of next year.  Regardless – Omar Minaya – Punks Down!

300 Pictures Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Celtics Team Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images / Woods Photo courtesy of the NY Post / Omar Minaya Photo by Francis Speckler/