Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Redemption! (No. 15)

It’s been two days since the Lakers won (two long days thanks to some nonsense happening at work) and I’m still feeling pretty good right now. Not even walking around a quiet Venice Beach after Kobe and the boys celebrated like it was 2000 all over again could kill my buzz and I’m anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s parade. Plus it’s my off day so its all good.

Sunday was all about redemption and determination. Two years ago Kobe was the NBA scoring champion who enjoyed another first round exit. Lakers fans were thinking we were in a dry spell and nobody could’ve imagined how 2007-08 and 2008-09 would’ve gone.The team became a family, taking on the drive of Kobe and Phil Jackson and remembered how bad they got beat by Boston last year.

If last year was personal redemption for Kobe Bryant, winning the MVP and sacrificing his game, this year was a team story of reclaiming something they lost.

This was redemption for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The two biggest scapegoats from last year’s NBA Finals were all finesse and no heart as Boston tossed them around like nothing. They were both headed for that road this year before things changed. Gasol keyed the Lakers’ Christmas Day victory over Boston with a tough fourth quarter, Odom had 28 and 17 boards against Cleveland on the road and played like a man possessed in the 2nd half and the NBA Finals. Gasol could’ve made a case for Finals MVP.

I def. felt Odom when he sent this Twit-Pic on Twitter that he would never wash his champagne-soaked shirt again. Gotta love athletes on Twitter expressing emotion.

It was redemption for Derek Fisher, who was criticized for being too old and not quick enough to hang with the better point guards in the playoffs. I’ve already touched on Fish in my last blog but Game 4 reminded everyone why he’s great in the clutch and the postseason showed why he’s one of the best leaders in basketball.

Trevor Ariza got his redemption because he was cast off as a role player. Criticized heavily for leaving UCLA after his freshman year and by Larry Brown for being “delusional,” he returned home last year and show glimpses of what he could do. Then he took home Kobe’s shooting strategy and developed a 3-point stroke in the summer down in San Diego.

What's a better scenario for him? Winning 2 state championships and being named Mr. Basketball of CA in 2003 then six years later, winning an NBA ring. I graduated HS in 2002 so I can relate to how fortunate he feels - couldn't happen to a better guy either, someone to who doesn't hesitate to give back to his school or current Westchester HS players

I’ve said it privately to friends but after this season, Kobe has finally found his Scottie Pippen – a wing player can slash to the rack, hit the clutch 3, play airtight defense and show no fear. He trusts Ariza and it showed during these playoffs where he stepped up his scoring and shooting. He’s due for a fat payday ($40-45 million I estimate) this summer and he’s earned it.

*by the way, this guy needs a nickname. Me and my boy Suraj have settled on The Trevoriza! but I’m open to tweaking that.

Phil Jackson has now passed Red Auerbach as the winningest champion in the NBA coaching ranks (Zen X). For everyone saying that he’s not a great coach cause he had superstar driven teams – this shuts y’all up. Kobe had an All-Star in Pau Gasol but look around him – you think the 2000-2002 Lakers would have any trouble beating this team? This ranks as arguably his finest coaching job along with the 93-94 Bulls squad.

Finally, there’s the Black Mamba. Last year was a transformation of his game and his personality. This year was about leadership and shaking off the “idiot criticism” that he can’t win one without Shaq. He had to find a way to elevate his teammates and make them better.

Game 1 of the Finals was about his eyes and his snarl. This series was about him bring both sides of his game – his scoring (32 pts) and his facilitating (over 7 dimes). Game 5 was about his joy and relief (plus that lil hand-switch bank shot in the air that will be replayed for years). Not counting the Olympics, I hadn’t seen him that happy in years. Maybe not since that first title when he and Shaq embraced after winning it all.

I told a colleague that I'm not going to rank Kobe on the all-time list because I'm no good at lists. I'll leave that to observers but he has to be no lower than 25th of all time. He bet me to make a list though so I'll try to compare it - I have SLAM's remix of their top 50 to help out.

That’s why this title felt like 2000 all over again (complete with rogue “fans” trashing parts of downtown but don’t call that a riot). This was a whole new team where Bryant and Fisher were the vets and this team had to learn how to win. Unlike last year when the West didn’t them prepare for a better, physical team in Boston, the West made them earn each and every win. Thank you Denver and especially Houston for making the rough harder so that way Orlando would be properly disposed of.

If I take pics at the parade, I’ll display them on here tomorrow. 15th title in 30 appearances sounds pretty good. Now let’s hope the Dodgers can make it feel like 88 all over again.

*EDIT - this title represents the end of an era as the Lakers flagship station for 32 years (AM 570) will now be 710 AM - the ESPN affiliate. I remember many nights as a kid anxious to hear Chick Hearn on Lakers Pregame, listening to him and Stu Lantz during the game and sleeping to Lakers Live with Stu. This is also the first title since Chick's passing - hope he enjoyed watching this one up in the sky.

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