Back in the Magic Johnson-era eighties, there would have been three or four more exclamation points at the end of “Lakers Win!” More whoop and more screaming till I’m hoarse. In 1982, I was actually at the deciding sixth game against Philadelphia, high-fiving strangers and singing “I Love L.A.” along with Randy Newman.
It’s not the same now. I’m older. And playoff tickets, I heard that “Floor Seats” were going for eighteen thousand dollars apiece. But it’s still quite a rush.
And way better than “Celtics Win!”
The Lakers-Celtics rivalry goes back to the late fifties, the Celtics invariably coming out on top. In fact, before this series, someone quipped that they shouldn’t call it a rivalry; they should call it the Celtics versus the team they beat in the finals.
Not this time.
In 2008, the Celtics did it again, clinching the title with a thirty-nine-point embarrassment that stunk up Laker fans’ memory banks for two years. Even though the Lakers won last year against Orlando, who cares, it was Orlando.
This year, it was the Celtics.
When Anna was little – maybe three or four – the Celtics’ most dominant player was Larry Bird, who would constantly break our hearts with his visceral competitiveness and his last-second heroics. Codifying our chagrin, Anna and I developed what became this ritualized exchange:
“Anna, who do we hate?”
“Because he’s too good.”
Then, in midseason, the Lakers got a new player. I immediately reported the news to my daughter.
“Anna, the Lakers got a new player!”
To which she excitedly replied,
It wasn’t Larry Bird. But such was the respect we had for our arch-nemesis that we both dearly wished that it were.
The current Lakers’ leader is Kobe Bryant, a prodigious talent, but not easy to warm to. Kobe’s intensity exposes flashes of petulance, and a selfish hogging of the ball. Michael Jordan hogged the ball too. I didn’t like him either.
In the deciding game, Kobe’s tightly-woundedness nearly cost the Lakers the championship. The cool thing is, now a savvier thirty-two, Bryant noticed what he was doing:
“I just wanted it so bad…and the more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me.”
Kobe’s self-awareness led him to change his approach. Sublimating his offence, he rebounded like a crazy man, and distributed the ball to his teammates.
Derek Fisher, berated all season on sports call-in shows as over the hill, drained a crucial three-pointer in the determining fourth quarter.
Free agent acquisition Ron Artest, arriving with a “loose cannon” reputation, (Also self-aware, Artest thanked his psychiatrist during a post-game interview), shone with his timely scoring and stone wall defence.
Seldom-used (but very attractive) Sacha Vujacic, who played all of four minutes, came in and sank two essential free throws in the final seconds of the game.
And Pal Gasol, “The Spaniard” as Kobe affectionately called him in the post-came Lovefest, a man who not entirely unfairly received the blame for the “Shame of ‘08” blowout, labeled “too soft” in his European finesse style of play, shredded the stereotype by battling for offensive rebounds, while also contributing 19 points and four valuable assists.
“Game Seven” wasn’t pretty. The referees let things get rough and at times it looked like it was turning into a hockey game. Both teams missed considerably more shots than they made, and in the first half, the Lakers, in particular, looked tight.
Sometimes, sports is about athleticism. Sometimes, it’s about delivering in the clutch. Sometimes, it’s about strategy. Sometimes – as it was this time – it’s about will. (One Laker correctly observed “We wanted it more.”) And sometimes, though it’s under-acknowledged, it’s about emotion.
But it’s always about something.
That’s why I watch.
And when your team wins, well, you get to float a little.
Until it all starts again, next year.