"This is what we play for"
~Phil Jackson during Tuesday's ring ceremony.
Phil couldnt be more right. This is indeed what the Lakers play for. Championships. As the Lakers raised banner #16 and passed out the rings I couldn't help but to think about all the great Laker teams of the past and the tradition that has been passed from one era to the next, from generation to generation. I've been a Lakers fan for just over 30 years so all I know about the Lakers is excellence. I watched the showtime era first hand. I was thankfully spared the horrors of the 1960's and the annual drubbing in the Finals at the hands of the hated Boston Celtics that the Lakers endured. I read about it and that was enough for me. Those days are long gone but even as the Lakers went through those horrible years it was sort of a rite of passage when you look back at it. Sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven. Many people see the Lakers as spoiled and entitled but this franchise has paid its dues. I think going through those hellish years in the 60's gave the Lakers franchise a character that other successful franchises dont have. That pain is real. Jerry West can barely talk about those years. Even the title he eventually won didnt begin to ease the damage that had been done to his heart and soul. That pain drove him as a player and later as a GM to excel above and beyond whatever expectations that were placed in front of him. Three decades later the Celtics would once again defeat the Lakers in the Finals as the ghost of Red Auerbach would once again gloat and puff on that damn victory cigar. Two years later, the Lakers would have their revenge and Red would have to put that cigar where the sun doesn't shine. That character showed itself once again. There is no shame in falling down. The only shame is not getting up and the Lakers always get up.
That was a great ring ceremony. I like the way the players introduced each other. The rings themselves were crazy. Designed by Beverly Hills based jeweler Jason Arasheben they seemingly topped last year's rings which set a new standard in my opinion. Last year's innovative touch to put the players faces on the ring was replaced this year by actually having a miniature scupture of each players face on the side as well as a piece of one of the actual balls used in Game 7 on the inside of the ring. Also, on the side opposite of the player's face is the score of Game 7 (83-79 in case you forgot). Sixteen large diamonds (eight across the top and bottom) which represents thetitles won by the franchise. Oh, and the ring is huge. Ron Artest may want to think twice about raffling his off. This ring is something special and certainly befitting a 16 time champion.
The Lakers are the best show in the NBA hands down. No team matches the drama or the excitement. They really know how to put on a show. First the fans are treated to the ring ceremony which was touching and then the game which had its share of drama, adversity and finally triumph with a nail biting ending. It was everything a fan could ask for. Steve Blake is already paying dividends knocking down that go ahead 3 pointer and being a factor on that final defensive play. I the 5 years he was here I never saw Jordan Farmar do anything close to that. Shannon Brown dropped 16 points and showed off his new and improved jumper. Maybe he wanted to impress his new fiancee Monica. Who cares. Just keep it up. With that kind of production from him it allows Phil to move Kobe to small forward during key stretches which gives the Lakers a really aggressive, fast and attack oriented offense. Lamar Odom played well and he seems like a different player since the World Championships. That experience with Team USA really did him some good. Phil was sort of riding Pau Gasol during training camp and Gasol came out strong with 29 and 11. Despite his knee not being 100% yet Kobe played pretty well. The explosion off the ground isnt there yet but Kobe at 80% is still better than everybody else at 100%. Dude is just remarkable and he became the first Laker to suit up for a 15th season. Damn, 15 years? It seems like yesterday when I watched him play as a rookie at the now defunct Long Beach Summer Pro League. Man, how time flies.
Of course with every new ring ceremony means an appearance by David Stern. I think overall Stern has been a good commissioner but I do have my issues with him. Recently the league announced that it was cracking down on player griping over referee calls and have given the refs free reign to call techs. If you remember they tried this a few years ago and the referees went nuts. By the time Christmas rolled around the league had to call off the dogs because guys like Steve Javie, Joey Crawford (already drunk with power) went completely overboard in dishing out techs and the game clearly suffered because of it. The same thing could happen again this season. Stay tuned. Fans dont pay good money to see referees nor do they pay good money to see superstar players tossed out of games over b.s.
Was it karma? Maybe the stars were aligned? How else can you explain the Boston Celtics beating LeBron James and the Miami Heat on opening night by 8 points and then Boston losing to LeBron's former team the Cleveland Cavaliers by 8 points on the following night. Things that make you go, hmmmm.