Joined: 10 Aug 2005
Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal
|Posted: Mon 6/15/09 11:54 am Post subject: Bittersweet Thoughts
|Last night the Lakers won the NBA finals in Orlando, four games to one. It was the franchise's 15th championship title, and the first one for Kobe without Shaq, the first one ever for several players--in particular I'm happy for Luke Walton--and the tenth in Phil Jackson's coaching career...and it all stirred several memories for me personally, beyond just basketball itself.
Their last NBA championship was won in 2002, the third of a trifecta won back-to-back-to-back. A few weeks earlier, I'd watched the Lakers put away the Kings, with my dad, in one of the early games of the Western Conference finals while standing in the lobby of the Santa Monica Four Seasons Hotel, where my cousin's wedding reception was being held. A few days later--specifically, on Memorial Day--my dad had a major health setback due to his Alzheimer's disease, and he was placed in a convalescent home. During the NBA finals, we watched Game 3 together from his room, a convincing victory over the New Jersey Nets. "It looks like they could sweep." he said, and nodded off to sleep. During Game 4, he was too tired to follow along with me, and so I drove a couple of miles away to Triple Crown and met Harpo (former Laker season ticket holder) there to enjoy the clincher.
It was June 19, 2002. Triple Crown was a madhouse. "The game is in the refrigerator!" exclaimed Lakers Hall of Fame broadcaster Chick Hearn, his trademark phrase. Everyone knows Dodger fans have been blessed with the presence of Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin, broadcasting excellence in two languages, for 110 years combined. Lakers fans once had the NBA's best, too.
The way the Nets were so thoroughly outplayed, it seemed anticlimactic when Game 4 had ended. Victory rounds of drinks were bought in honor of title #14. Who knew it would be Hearn's last championshipy call? Seven weeks later, he was dead at age 85 from head injuries suffered during a fall. Thus, on August 5, 2002, came a loss that left Lakers fans, who'd barely finished celebrating the championship, reeling.
Six months after that, my dad was gone as well, on February 18, 2003.
Baseball season got underway a few weeks afterward, and it was the first one in which we didn't have a conversation about the teams and preview the upcoming year. Basketball season had started without Chick. Who was left for me? Just Vinnie.
As for the Lakers, the next few years left a bad taste in this fan's mouth. Disarray, dysfunction, coaching and personnel changes, controversy on and off the court. The Lakers didn't win another title until Sunday night. Kobe had the seven-year itch. I had a seven-year itch to hear Chick again, and talk to my dad. I found it very ironic that both of them left within months of the last of the three-peat seasons.
Basketball isn't my favorite game, and the Lakers aren't my favorite of all sports teams. But having followed them since the days of Jerry West in my childhood, it's good to see success again. Last June, the ultimate of NBA rivalries was renewed when the Lakers faced the Celtics for the title, and lost. Many of us who were present at TCP listened to a couple of Red Sox fans who doubled as Celtics fans trash talking all through the final game. Last night, I met Harpo at the same location, and erasing that memory of '08 was sweet indeed.
And now the Dodgers can go back to having the front sports page of the Times to themselves. Or, at least back to sharing it with the Angels. (!) Let's not forget which team it is that has the major leagues' best record.
But while looking back, I may be looking ahead a bit:
Twenty-one years ago, the Lakers disposed of the Detroit Pistons in the finals and won the 1988 world title. Four months later, Kirk Gibson launched a miraculous home run at Chavez Ravine, and the rest is history.
Could this be the year, a repeat of 1988?
Oh, if only.
"The Dodgers have always occupied an enormous place in the history of the game. If the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history, the Dodgers are the most essential. Their legacy is unique."
-Baseball Hall of Fame