Thursday June 12th, 2008. I was sitting in my (college) home in Santa Cruz, California, watching the Laker game with a handful of friends. It had been a tremendous season and a breakout one for me as a fan. Nearing completion of my third year in college, I had begun to apply my critical thinking skills to the game of basketball and learned to appreciate it on a whole new level. It was also the first season that I tirelessly watched every single Laker game, often times on grainy justin.tv streams that made me realize just how seriously I took KCal9 for granted.
The mood was appropriately somber. The game had started at six and was nearing it's end around 8:30. The sun was almost all the way down and it was dark in the room. No one had made the day to night transition official by turning on the light. I don't remember what the fanbase was like in the room, but I remember the darkness and quiet demeanor like it was yesterday. The refs robbed us of game 1 and we lost game 2. We came back with a vengeance and gritted out a defensive game 3 win. We had a legitimate shot at the title still. Then we blew a 20 point lead in the second half, culminating on a Ray Allen layup. Time to start thinking about next year.
I will always remember Thursday June 11th, 2009. I was sitting in a good friend's (college) home in Santa Cruz. The bbq was going and I was about two beers and one mojito deep. The atmosphere was enjoyable, to say the least. I was surrounded by almost all of my best friends, many of which I'd turned into Laker fans with my diehard fanaticism. Others were born and bread SoCal natives like myself. A few were even what I will politely label "Laker haters" (mostly Golden State and Sacramento fans cheering on Orlando just to see the Lakers lose). There were the girls that just adored everything Kobe related and the typical meathead Laker fans that hated Pau Gasol cause he's "soft" and booed everytime Luke got the ball. I could educate them all night as to why they were totally wrong on both counts, but I resolved to just be extra demonstrative whenever they made plays: "GOOD D PAU!!....THAT'S HOW YOU POST-UP, LUKE!!"
The Lakers were down 12 at the half. I was noticeably upset and everyone called me out on it. I didn't care. I'm an emotional guy and I flat out LOVE this team. When they are losing, I am not happy. When they are winning, I am ecstatic. That's simply how it goes. I pulled my steak off the grill (perfect medium rare), sat down, unmuted the talking ESPN heads and got ready for the second half.
Then the predictable happened. Third quarter excellence meets third quarter collapse. I got excited and I got happy real fast as the Lakers came out of the gates and went on a 14-1 run to start the quarter. They'd end it up by 4, thanks to Trevor Ariza who's #3 jersey I'm sure I'll be purchasing this summer.
Then the distasteful happened. The Lakers shot no free throws in the fourth, while Orlando shot 14. Kobe would drive to the basket, get body clammered by Howard, and the refs would swallow their whistles. I'd scream for fouls (those WERE fouls when LEBRON was playing), but they'd never come. I knew deep down, past all the emotion, that the Lakers needed to grit this game out and win without the help of the zebras. I knew they could do it too, but as the game was winding down things weren't looking good. My good friend who was unable to watch was calling me back after I had called him to update him on the third quarter goodness. We were down 5 and there was some 30 seconds left. Time to face the music. I gave him the news, channeled my inner Bill Simmons, and prepared myself for the worst.
Then the unexpected happened. The Magic defense grew complacent for the first time in the quarter. They thought they had it in the bag. If there was one player on the court that knew this wasn't the case, it was the Black Mamba himself. He drove, he dodged, he spun, he dished. Dunk for Pau Gasol. The reaction by the room was one of reluctant appreciation. Despite this highlight reel of a play by our #1 and #2, we were still down 3 with 11 seconds to go. I was still on the phone, not wanting to let my buddy miss out on any of the action.
Then the unpredictable happened. It was being talked about all post season how Dwight Howard had improved his freethrow shooting by leaps and bounds. He out freethrowed Kobe Bryant himself in Game 3. He went to the line now in Game 4 with the chance to seal the game not only once, but twice. Even splitting the free throws would put the Magic up by 4 and make it a two possession game. He missed the first one. Hope bubbled inside me. He missed the second. I yelled out in primal joy into the phone, deafening not only my buddy but probably the three people sitting in front of me as well. We had a chance. My friend had to go, so I hung up. The ensuing Laker timeout seemed to take forever. When the Show came back on, an inquiring mind in our audience asked, "Why are they taking the ball out in the backcourt?" It was a question only the Zen Master himself could answer.
Then amazing happened. Derek Fisher, Mr. 0.4 himself, sank a game tying 3-pointer with an ironically appropriate 4 seconds left on the game clock. The rest, needless to say, is history. History that will forever be etched in my mind, body, and soul. 2008-2009: my best Laker season ever.
knock on wood.
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