The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the NBA Finals, just four wins away from being crowned world champions once again. Yes, after the pain and suffering of signing LeBron James one summer and trading for Anthony Davis the next, Lakers fans have finally found reprieve. All is right in the basketball world at last, and no one is more relieved than I.
Yes, scoffing at the notion of the Lakers “finally” returning to the NBA Finals after a 10-year “drought” is a perfectly justifiable response. In fact, it might be the only reasonable one. We’re talking about the franchise that holds the league record for the most games won in the NBA Finals, after all. We’re talking about 16 championships on deck and seven championship series appearances in the last 20 years alone. We’re talking about the Los Angeles Lakers.
Showtime, Diesels, Mambas and Kings.
Yet the road over the last decade has not been kind to the Lakers. Every headline another franchise low, the latest embarrassing score, or the signing of the next “who?” to tack onto an already-taped-together roster. Another draft, another summer to analyze which of Noah Vonleh, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, or Julius Randle is best fit to carry the Lakers into a new era. The answer, of course, was none of them.
There were nights that Jodie Meeks being like was the lone bright spot of a late Wednesday blowout. Quiet off-seasons when Devin Ebanks developing was something the team needed, and Earl Clark signing elsewhere left a hole in the rotation. Dismal summer league teams with Kendall Marshall as one of the biggest stories to follow. Starting lineups that featured Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre, with Manny Harris clocking 20 minutes off the bench. And yet, every year, every game, we came back for more. Always persistent in the belief this Willy Wonka spiraling tunnel of disappointment wouldn’t last forever. Just keep swimming.
So, we did just that, doubling down on our love for the purple and gold. Through struggle came the necessity to adapt to new realities, both for the organization and fans. Passionate communities like the one here rode out the storm, watching the Lakers tear through players, coaches and front office personnel like a vicious tornado every season. Year after year it was the next big hope, and by the time the 82nd game had passed, we were just happy it was finally over with. On to the next one, I guess.
December 8, 2011 might be the beginning of this full circle path the Lakers find themselves on, the day a trade with the New Orleans Hornets became one of the most infamous off-season moments in NBA history. Basketball reasons, as the saying goes. Los Angeles never quite recovered from that failure to launch, New Orleans cashed in a 14 percent chance to land the top pick in the draft one year later, and Anthony Davis wound up in “The Big Easy.” Just like that, every piece leading to today was in motion. The next big hope.
So it’s only fitting that another trade with New Orleans — the one that landed Los Angeles the very transcendent talent the Pelicans drafted after trading Chris Paul to the Clippers — has brought the Lakers back upon the precipice of greatness. They’re now four victories away from closing this loop, hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy into the sky, and emerging from one of the most unlikely postseason experiences in professional sports history. LeBron and AD are on the cusp of bringing it all back home to Los Angeles, adding a 17th golden ornament to a shelf already buckling under the weight of championship hardware.
And that’s why, as this loop that’s been in motion for ten years begins to close Wednesday when Game 1 tips off, I couldn’t resist the chance to come back to the blog I used to run through those dark times for a moment to reminisce. To remind myself and everyone here:
No matter how dark a tunnel may be, the light is always worth it.
Time to finish the job.