Before my high school sweetheart broke up with me, my heartbreaks are limited to seeing the Lakers get beaten.
Well, not necessarily the Lakers getting beaten in a game. Though, a Laker game loss is always a downer, the real heartbreaks happens when the Lakers loses in the playoffs. The nearest feeling of frustration and sadness to a Laker series loss I experienced back then was when I lose an important PC game match. But at least, in PC games I can get back at it, to avenge my loss, a few days later at most. But if the Lakers lose in the playoffs, I would have to wait several months till the next season to see them again go for another attempt for the championship.
My early years as a Laker fan were good times. Those were the Kobe-Shaq threepeat years. Then came the 2002-03 season where I experienced my first Laker heartbreak. I remember that I was eating brunch (Live NBA games are daytime in the Philippine timezone) in a café during Game 5 of the Lakers’ series against the (eventual champions) Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. In the last seconds of the game, Kobe makes a pass to an open Robert Horry. Horry shoots a three for the win. It seemed liked it was going to be one of those legendary Horry shots again. The ball flirted with the ring… and coughed it out. David Robinson (my most favorite non-Laker player of all time) got the rebound as the final milliseconds runs out. My mouth went dry, I became pale, and I lost my appetite. I also watched the Game 6, but turned off the TV during the 4th quarter, when the Spurs had a comfortable lead. It was too painful to watch. Back then I was not yet “tough enough” to watch a Laker last stand to the end. Later, I would read the paper and see the picture of Kobe and Fisher crying. I feel like crying myself, after getting used to successes, it was hard to take on my first taste of Laker heartbreak.
The next season, Kobe had the Colorado scandal going, but I was optimistic since the Lakers signed Payton and Malone, creating a powerhouse team with four future Hall of Famers. They were the favorites to win. And though injuries limited them, they were still able to go back to the Finals. But the Detroit Pistons crushed them. I absented myself from school for one day after the Lakers lost in the decisive Game 5 just to get over the bad feeling of the Lakers being upset by the Pistons. Dexter Fishmore actually pointed out that this defeat was a good thing. And he does have good points. That defeat was a major factor of the Laker success we enjoy now. But still, back then, without knowing the future, it was painful.
With no Shaq, Kobe led the Lakers in the first year of rebuilding. Lakers did not make the playoffs, and I suffered the ridicule of my Lakers-hating friends, as they especially mock Kobe, saying he can’t lead the Lakers and can’t win without Shaq.
2005-06 season was a monster scoring year for Kobe. Phil came back and the Lakers returned to the playoffs. I was delighted when the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in their series with the Phoenix Suns. But the Suns came back to win the next three games. From that point, that would be the most painful Laker loss I had experienced. The emotional crash from an extreme positive feeling (3-1 lead) to an extreme negative feeling (losing 4-3) was just too much. Add that level of disappointment to the fact that people around me continue to hate and criticize Kobe and the Lakers, and you understand why it was my lowest Laker moment for some time.
Suns eliminated the Lakers, of a mediocre 42-40 record, again the next season. But I was not really expecting much. Still a disappointing loss but not that painful. I was actually hoping that the series was going to be fast and painless – like a euthanasia.
Then, comes the dramatic 2007-08 season of the Lakers. Kobe got the MVP. The Lakers got Pau Gasol. And the Lakers became elite again, getting the West’s coveted top seed, and coming back to the Finals stage versus the Boston Celtics. But the Lakers would fail to win the championship. So close yet so far. This time I was “tough enough” to watch the Lakers’ embarrassing Game 6 loss, though it was so soul-crushing. But I continue to watch, as a stubborn Laker fan giving support down to the last second. This NBA Finals 2008 loss would replace the 2006 Phoenix series as my most heartbreaking Laker moment. The previous heartbreaks seemed to be small in comparison compared to this loss to the Celtics in the Finals. Why? First, they’re the Celtics – and as I experience my first taste of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, I appreciate the romance in all its epic proportions, and understood how bad it is to lose to the Celtics. Second, a Laker loss in June would be the most painful of all. In the past where the Lakers got eliminated in the playoffs, it would happen in April or May (except in 2004). Thus by the time June (NBA Finals) comes, I would have gotten over the hurt of the Lakers’ defeat earlier in the playoffs, and as an NBA fan, I would be able to enjoy the Finals, without caring who would win. But if this heartbreak would happen in June, it would ruin the entire month for me. What’s so special with June, then? It’s my birthday month. Thus, a 39-point loss in an elimination game – which is so humiliating – in the NBA Finals – the time which the championship is closest in sight – from the Celtics – the Lakers most hated rival – in the month of June – my birthday month – is, hands down, my most painful Laker heartbreak ever.
But, of course, Lakers finally came back on top. So in 2009 and 2010 – two successive birthdays – I am in high spirits, and as I look back to those heartbreaks of the past, I see that they make the success the Lakers are enjoying now much, much… much sweeter.
This community could surely empathize with the ups and lows I experienced as a Laker fan. So, I am just curious. How about you? What or when was your most painful Laker heartbreak ever?