Twice as Nice

It had to be one of the worst games I've ever watched for 41 minutes and one of the worst games I've ever seen Kobe Bryant play, but somehow, the Los Angeles Lakers became back-to-back NBA champions last night and I'm ecstatic this morning! For the past two weeks I've been badgered by friends, received messages from friends that I didn't know watched basketball, harassed by my neighbors and haunted by the failure of the 2008 matchup with the Boston Celtics, but all of that was eradicated in a seven minute stretch in which Derek Fisher, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol came up big while Kobe struggled with his shooting touch. The supporting cast made big shot after big shot, scrambled for loose balls, played the best defense they have all season and then Kobe remembered he was a basketball player a made a key shot, a few free throws, but most importantly grabbed 15 rebounds as the momentum turned.

Yes, the game was so ugly that it was beautiful. The Celtics started hot and jumped out to a lead that they held through three quarters while the Lakers seemingly couldn't buy a basket. However, when the 4th quarter started, it almost seemed as if the Celtics forgot how to win. Lamar Odom and Ron Artest brought a little NYC toughness to the game, Gasol stayed active, Fisher returned to the court to nail a three pointer and the Celtics didn't have an answer. As the game ebbed and flowed, my heart raced, fluttered, I paced and swept the kitchen floor to burn off nervous energy. I even became a little superstitious, changing my Magic Johnson jersey to Kobe Bryant at halftime, switching seats in the living room, but I kept my Converse Weapons (circa 1987) on the entire time.

When it was all said and done, the Lakers franchise won their 16th NBA title, Phil Jackson won his 11th as coach (13th overall), Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher got their 5th and the star of the night Ron Artest got his first. It what had to be the most sobering (and troubling) moment of the night, Artest thanked his hood (Queensbridge) and his psychiatrist for helping him through his personal struggles. It is not everyday a professional athlete admits to seeking help and for it to be a Black man was monumental. Artest has overcome a myriad of on-court and off-court issues to shine on the biggest night of his career and for him to disclose that information was special. Yet, it was nearly negated by the fact that he promoted an upcoming rap single immediately following, put the mic down Ron Ron!

The big question over the next week is if Phil Jackson will be back as coach, his contract expires, he's been dealing with a troublesome back for seasons, he's 65 years old and has nothing left to prove. But, Phil likes to win titles in threes, so I hope he returns for another three-peat. The window was officially closed on this version of the Celtics as the aging Big Three have reached a crossroad in their careers, Kevin Garnett can't consistently play at the highest level of intensity anymore due to injury, Paul Pierce was up and down this series and soon-to-be free agent Ray Allen couldn't nail his jump shot with regularity since his record-breaking game 2 performance. Add to those factors that Coach Doc Rivers has hinted at wanted to spend more time with his family and watch his top high school prospect son Austin's senior season and to quote Rick Pitino, "Larry Bird is not walking through that door!"

The postgame activities went all the way to the abyss when Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace attempted to confront the officials after the game, trying to get into their dressing room "just to talk" as he said. A notorious hothead with a particular indifference for referees, Sheed claims to have played his last game and judging by his actions afterwards, he just wanted to display his appreciation to the three guys that called six fouls on him last night and have probably given him a boatload of technical fouls over the years. He may need to get the number of the doctor that's helped Ron Artest. Security and team officials were finally able to remove him from the area and he boarded the team bus in complete uniform and shades…good riddance!

All the talk during the series was about Kobe's legacy, his place in history, franchise and where he sits amongst the all-time greats. A dismal shooting performance in game 7 will make his detractors happy, but the journey to this championship, through the numerous injuries, the Jordan comparisons, being overshadowed by the LeBron James free agency hype, fighting the ghost of Shaquille O'Neal and that 2008 loss to Boston is proof enough that his talent and will to win, plus his ability to do the intangibles (15 rebounds in the clincher) led to his second straight Finals MVP and regardless of what the pundits or haters say, a title that places him among the best to ever lace them up.

As a Laker fan this title was special because it was over the Celtics. All year, like most NBA fans and silently officials alike, wanted to see Kobe vs LeBron, Lakers vs Cavaliers, but the opportunity to defeat and put an end to the current version of Celtic Pride was worth the 8 month wait for the Finals to conclude. Now, it's time to turn my attention to what has become my favorite part of the offseason, the free agency sweepstakes that this year includes LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, and Ray Allen, all of this after the NBA draft next week…I love this game!

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