Lakers NBA champs…can they do it again?
By Aris Aristorenas
Like it or not, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics at Staples Center Thursday, June 17 in a rare Game 7 thriller of the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Lakers claim their 17th championship in back-to-back fashion defending last year’s title against the Orlando Magic. Few teams have successfully repeated as champions, and in fact, the last to do so were the Kobe-Shaq Lakers of the early decade. For Kobe Bryant, this victory was perhaps more sentimental than his previous feats.
“It was [the hardest title] and the most physical one. [The Celtics] weren’t going to beat themselves, we had to beat them, and I just wanted it so bad. I wanted it so, so bad”, Bryant said during the post-game press conference.
Never mind the pressure of playing in only the seventeenth Game 7 throughout the past 60 years. Never mind that it was against a team whose rivalry dates back to the 1960s – a team who had never lost a Game 7 in the Finals – ever – and a team which even retired Laker legends, Jerry West, and Magic Johnson failed to eliminate in a seventh Finals game. Never mind overcoming a 3-2 series disadvantage, and a 13-point deficit prior to the 4th quarter.
Ten of Bryant’s game high 23 points, would come in the closing moments of the 83-79 come-from-behind win as he finished Game 7 with 15 rebounds earning him his second straight Finals MVP, and perhaps more importantly, closure with the same team that embarrassed the Lakers in the Finals the exact same June 17 date, 2 years ago.
Bryant’s title count increments to the rank of 5-time NBA World Champion – one more than ex-teammate Shaquille O’Neal, and only one less than former Chicago Bulls superstar, Michael Jordan.
The comparisons to number 23 himself have never been more legitimate, and those of you who claimed with confidence that a Kobe Bryant-led team would never reach the Promised Land – let alone win again (and again) on the big stage – have been missing in action for the last week. I am curious to hear your excuses this year.
Head coach Phil Jackson, also adds to his resume an NBA record 11 championships – his 5th with Los Angeles – as he contemplates returning next season, and putting health issues aside to attempt his 4th run of winning 3 consecutive titles. Jackson – who turns 65 in September – did it twice coaching the Bulls of the 1990’s, winning half a dozen championships in Chicago.
When asked if any worry or concern was present being down 13 in the historic game, Jackson said, “I knew that that was a very possible scenario, and that [the team] was going to come back and play better. They make good adjustments as a team. Ron Artest was the most valuable player tonight. He brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd”.
Back in October, the only newly acquired Laker Ron Artest, had to sit in the locker room during the 2009 Ring Ceremony while his teammates collected their championship rings. But in just a few months, Artest – whose excitement was in true form after the game – will finally be able to participate in the experience for the first time in his 11-year career.
For other Lakers who played a pivotal role in the closing moments such as Pau Gasol, the victory also serves as a response to those who have been questioning the team’s mental poise and toughness since their loss to the Celtics 2 years ago.
“It feels amazing to win a championship. It definitely adds up when you beat Boston, especially after the rivalry, the history of the franchises, and our individual, and personal history in 2008. We’ve definitely grown. We’ve grown as a team, we’ve grown as individuals, and obviously it shows”, says Gasol.
The 83-79 Game 7 victory last Thursday lived up to expectation, bringing the highest NBA Finals ratings in 12 years, and even a telephone call from President Barack Obama, congratulating Phil Jackson and the Lakers after winning the championship for the second straight season.
For such a historic game, it’s no wonder why post-game celebration outside the Staples Center, downtown Los Angeles quickly got out of hand. The riots that ensue after championships are nothing new to L.A police authorities. Following the game, LAPD was already in battle-mode, implementing road detours that would not let anyone cross the main roads, even if you lived on the other side of the street.
Personally, after an hour and a half of walking into dead ends surrounded by police in riot gear telling fans to turn around and find another way, I got back to my hotel – which happened to be directly across Staples. Public property was defaced, police were assaulted with bottles and stones, a man was found beaten, taxis were lit on fire, and shots were even fired.
Fortunately, LAPD contained what could have been a much more serious situation, and it is definitely good for the department that the game did not result in a loss.
There’s no telling what the emotional levels are like in Boston, where fans are still unsure whether or not Thursday’s loss was the last time they would see marquee players such as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo in the same uniform.
For the Celtics, there “wasn’t a dry eye” in the locker room, says Boston head coach Doc Rivers. Even shooting guard Tony Allen couldn’t help but break down into tears when asked after the game if he wanted to see the current Celtic lineup back next season.
“[The loss] is definitely a tough one to swallow. I definitely want to see this group back, but…I don’t know. We fought hard to get here, and it was an unfortunate Game 7 to lose. But I don’t know. I don’t know, it’s tough right now”, said Allen during a locker room interview.
It’s been a privilege to have attended both the first game of the Laker season where the ring ceremony was held, and the last game of the NBA Finals where they were crowned World Champions. Even if Game 7 marked the end of an era for Boston, like it or not, the Los Angeles Lakers are the 2010 NBA World Champions, leaving many with a familiar question in mind as last year.
Can they do it again?