Friday, June 18, 2010

NBA FINALS: We Are The Champions ... MY FRIENDS!!!

Before I get to my analysis of game 7 I must pay tribute to the three men who taught me the game of basketball. My father Richard introduced me to the game. He and my mother used to tell me these stories about the Laker teams of the 1960’s. No happy endings, these were more like Grimm’s fairy tales where you find out that the big bad wolf actually ATE Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Game Seven 1962, Frank Selvy misses a wide open shot at the buzzer in a tie game the Lakers went on to lose in OT. Elgin Baylor scored 61 points in an NBA final game against the Celtics, and the Lakers lost. Jerry West hit a half court shot to tie a finals game against the Knicks … that the Lakers also lost in OT. Don Nelson’s fluke shot in Game Seven 1969 and the balloons never get to fall at the Fabulous Forum. I saw more pain in my father’s eyes when he talked about those games … than when he spoke of his divorce from my mother. I hated the Boston Celtics with more passion than a 10-year old should have…and that made Dad proud. My step-father George was a bit of an Orange County playground legend in his youth. He once scored 60 points in a high school game and was a pupil of future USC coach Bob Boyd when he coached at Santa Ana Community College. My step-father probably would have gone on to play at USC, but he and his girlfriend at the time got in the “family way” and he settled for teaching his step-son about the game he loved. He was my hoops guide & prophet as the Lakers Dynasty of the 1980’s emerged and I saw tears in his eyes in 1985 when Magic, Kareem & Showtime claimed the NBA Championship at Boston’s mythical Garden. My biological father was the spark that ignited the basketball fire in me. My Step-father stoked the flame until it burned white-hot. It still does.

And the third man, the other “father-figure” who taught me about this game I love so much that I honestly got emotional last night. Frances Hearn … “Chick” to you and me. Ah Chick... Chickie… Chickie-Baby… Chickie-Baby-Sweetheart! However you came to know and love him, adore him really. He is the God-Father of Los Angeles basketball and I learned about this game by listening to his golden voice. “Dribble-drive” “Fast Break” … “Slaaaam Dunk!” these phrases are all common-place in the modern game used universally today, but true Laker fans will proudly tell you that all of those are “Chickisms”. I grew up on him, like Tina Turner said”I hang on every word you say” Chick taught me that there were many different variations to the violation most fans simply call traveling. “Too Many Steps” still echoes around Staples center today thanks to PA announcer Lawrence Tantor. And of course “The Bunny-Hop in the Pea Patch” is what the uninitiated refer to as “Up & Down” (I’m not kidding, look in an NBA rule book and you will not find “up & down” anywhere, it’s just traveling) Chick let us know what the player had done to get the call and he did it in the most colorful entertaining way possible. In my opinion NO Lakers Championship will ever be complete until Chick tells us “This Game is in the Refrigerator, the Door is closed the Lights are out the Eggs are Cooling, the Butter is getting Hard and …. THE JELLO IS JIGGLING!!!

They are all gone now. Sad that they never witnessed the Lakers defeat the Celtics in a Game 7. But Rest in Peace, basketball fathers, the Celtic curse is no more!

Speaking of cursing, how about that game 7? Only the Lakers v Celtics have the ability to turn an otherwise calm banker, husband, and father of two, into an insane foul-mouthed bad ass who screamed at his television set as if It were not only showing me the game, but also bore some responsibility for what was happening. Minus their starting center (Kendrick Perkins), 48-hours after getting their tails kicked the wounded Celtics came out big and bold and attempted to rob the Lakers and their fans of the gold. The Lakers scored 14-points in the first quarter of the biggest game of the year. Fourteen points??? Fourteen! My god, that must have been the lowest scoring quarter for this team all season (it wasn’t) and it was an ominous of sign of what was about to transpire. I tried to suppress the thought, but somewhere in the back of my brain I could hear Dad telling me that horrible nightmare from 1970 when Willis Reed got hurt in Game 6 only to come out of the hospital and lead the Knicks to victory over the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I might be an Atheist, but at that point in the game I was looking skyward and begging the Almighty One to spare me the memories that tormented my father. I don’t know if he was listening, but at the very least, Ron Artest was.

In previous articles I have called out Artest for being the most confounding player I have ever had the pleasure (?) to watch. I stand by that claim and if you want to argue, well when was the last time you heard a professional athlete thank his Psychiatrist BEFORE he thanked God during the post-game interviews? But Ron Ron played exceptional last night. The only player on the Lakers roster who had never played in an NBA Finals before played like the only player who ever had. As always his defense on Paul Pierce was nothing less than stifling (5 Steals!) and although I still cringed every time he touched the ball on offense, there he was knocking down big shots & Celtics en route to his biggest game of the season and as a Laker. He had 20 points, 5 rebounds and he infuriated the Celtics midway thru the 3rd quarter when he tangled up Paul Pierce under the basket and got in his own submission for “Punk” play of the series using a forearm to dislodge Paula’s headband and pulling it down over his eyes. With Garnett, Davis, Rondo & Pierce closing in around Artest under the basket the look on Ron’s face said it all. The Celtics needed one or two more guys against Ron Artest and “maybe” it would be a fair fight. Fittingly, his three-pointer near the end of the Game was the final dagger plunged into the hearts of the Celtics Championship dream. As Artest will soon learn Laker Fans have a special place in their hearts for the heroes whose jerseys will not be raised to the Staples Center Rafters. (Fisher, Horry, Wilkes, Rambis) Welcome to the Pantheon Ron.

Of course Artest was not the only un-sung hero in last night’s game. There was Derek Fisher hitting yet another big shot pulling the Lakers even at 64 early in the 4th quarter. Lamar Odom had a relatively quiet night with just 7-points, 7 rebounds, but there he was in the final two minutes of a tight game swooping past Kevin Garnett for a Lay-up increasing the Lakers lead to six points. Andrew Bynum may be a little injury-prone, but the kid played like a Warrior and Laker fans will never forget what he gave us in this series. And Sasha! Oh Sasha, maybe we should start calling you the “The Ice Machine” because that must be what runs in your veins, ice water. With just 25 seconds left in the game and the Lakers lead down to just two points Coach Phil turned to the Slovenian knowing that the Celtics would be fouling to stop the clock. The Lakers tried to get the ball in first to Fisher, then to Kobe but when the Celtics shut those options down Lamar Odom was forced to inbound the pass to Vujacic who was immediately fouled. He only played 4 minutes in the whole game last night and he had been sitting on the bench since the beginning of the 4th quarter. Pressure? Not for Sasha. I’ve seen guys shooting free throws alone in a gym that didn’t look so comfortable. With his teammates twisting in agony behind him “The Machine” came thru in the clutch and buried both foul shots making it a two-possession game. We won’t forget you either Sasha!!!

Only time to salute one more hero and trust me I’m just as surprised as everyone else that player is NOT going to have the initials KB. In the biggest game of his career Kobe Bryant had one of his worse nights. In the penultimate closing game the NBA’s ultimate closer shot 6 for 24 from the field (25%) missed 4 free throws and committed 4 turnovers. A guy who I’ve never seen feel pressure, almost succumbed to it. Entering the 4th quarter of the biggest game of his life Kobe Bryant had 13 points. He only made one basket in the last 12 minutes of the game but he did fight through enough to get to the free throw line and scored 10 points overall in the 4th. It was just enough. His Spanish sidekick on the other hand came up HUGE. Pau Gasol had 19 points (9 in the 4th quarter) 18 rebounds 4 assists 2 blocked shots and one long loud satisfying Scream as he came off the floor during a timeout in the 4th quarter. That Barcelonan Howl was reminiscent of KG’s ridiculous antics in 2008 and repeated again during games 4 & 5 of this series and don’t think for a second that Pau (pronounced POW!) wasn’t getting some payback. In this series “The Spaniard” brought the pain and the Big Ticket … got Punched!

My last words on this series come from … Red Auerbach?? Yes the Green Devil himself like the little troll that he was sat in the Boston locker room in 1984 after the Celtics defeated the Lakers in Game 7 of NBA finals and gloatingly proclaimed “Not a Dynasty unless you win back-to-back titles!” My Step-father turned off the TV and cursed. My dad would later say something along the lines of “See, I told you so” and then cursed. It was nothing more than a mean spirited poke in the Lakers eyes immediately following a painful defeat. I hope Red turns over in his cigar stanched coffin as he realizes that by His Own Words… the 2008 Celtics were nothing more than One-Hit Wonders (like Rick Derringer or Wang Chung) while the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers ARE truly a Dynasty. Again.

Namaste (Peace) to all my Laker Brothers and I leave you with my favorite You Tube Video. It needs a little update but it still captures my feelings perfectly. We Are The Champions … MY FRIENDS

LA Lakers ... You Are The Best!!!

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