Thursday, June 19, 2008

Loving The Lakers (Even When They Lose)

When you get to attach yourself emotionally with someone or something in this world too much, it will be very painful and heartbreaking when you lose them… or see them lose. I, being a loyal fan, had already been attached too much with the Los Angeles Lakers. I like the franchise, the team, the players and coaches – past and present – and the Laker girls. They are winners, and project their being winners. The Lakers is associated with Hollywood, glitz and glamour, prestige, entertainment, and Showtime. They are the most entertaining and most hyped team in the NBA. The credit probably goes to Dr. Jerry Buss for marketing the LA Lakers as such, that many grew to like them. For us Laker fans, the feeling is mutual.

It is always painful to see the Lakers lose, and cloud 9 when they win. I had started liking the Lakers after the Chicago Bulls years of Jordan, and the three-peat championships of 2000-2002 were happy years indeed. Then came the heartaches. The 2003 loss to the San Antonio Spurs was painful (especially when Robert Horry’s three came out of the basket in Game 5), after getting used to the Lakers as champions. The 2004 NBA Finals 4-1 loss to the Detroit Pistons was more so, since that was the season they were “destined” for it. Then they miss the 2005 playoffs, the first year without Shaquille O’Neal, it was very downgrading to us Laker fans. The 2006 loss to the Phoenix Suns was as painful as the 2004 Finals loss to the Pistons, the Lakers was ahead 3-1 but the Suns still beat them in seven (It is very bad feeling to have your emotions high, and then brought crashing to the ground). The 2007 loss to the Suns was not that painful though since I was not expecting much of the Lakers that season.

Then the 2007-2008 season came…
Before the season started, Kobe Bryant, the LA Lakers’ superstar, was already nagging at the LA Lakers’ front desk for improvements. In frustration, he asked of being traded. But the season started without him being traded, and the LA Lakers begun doing well. Andrew Bynum got injured and they start to lose again. Then came the most exciting trade in Lakers history, the trade for Pau Gasol for a player the home crowd boos (Kwame Brown), a rookie (Javaris Crittenton), and some draft picks… what a deal for the Lakers! I was elated. The Lakers finished first in the West, and Kobe became MVP – a great treat for us Lakers and Kobe fans.

I was glad to have the Lakers face the Denver Nuggets in the first round. To be honest, I was more worried of the Golden State Warriors (being able to beat the Lakers twice in the regular season, and has a record in knocking out a team in the first round) than the Nuggets. So when the Warriors was beaten by the Nuggets for eight place in the West, I was relieved. Well, as I expected, the Lakers never had a hard time – sweeping the Nuggets.

The next was the Utah Jazz. I also thought it was going to be a sweep, but it took six games to beat the Jazz.

The defending champion San Antonio Spurs were their opponents in the conference finals. I thought the series was going to be a dogfight, but the Lakers took them out in five. I know that Manu Ginobili is the key for the Spurs to win, so when Bryant and Sasha Vujacic shut him down, the Western Conference title was sure for the Lakers to win.

After more than twenty years, the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics were on again in the NBA Finals – a classic rivalry renewed. A big marketing opportunity for the NBA, David Stern got his wish. The time of Jerry West’s Lakers vs. Bill Russell’s Celtics and the time of Magic Johnson’s Lakers vs. Larry Bird’s Celtics were not my time, but I know the feeling of rivalry was intense. Laker lovers hate the Celtics like they were from the devil. This Finals, I easily got the hang of it. Though I like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett as players, I despised the Celtics.

But my Lakers lost to the Celtics in six games. It was very painful indeed. Much more painful than the previous losses of the Lakers in the past years. My hopes were high that this was the year that LA Lakers will win the championship again, but I was wrong. I am sportsman enough to admit the Celtic team – led by their Big Three – was the better team.

These are certainly dark days for us Laker fans. Heartbreaking indeed. But the fans and the team would rise again. If all goes well, the Lakers would be champions next year. “What does not kill you will make you stronger,” as Kobe Bryant's motto says. I hope this experience will make us stronger.

But I think the road back to the Finals will be harder next year for the Lakers. The Wild Wild West is getting wilder.

The Spurs are old, but I will still count them out yet. Though they are probably not title contenders next year, they’ll still be tough. So does the Suns.

Deron Williams is the Jazz’s future. Young as he is, I know he’s hungry for the gold. I see that on Chris Paul, too. I don’t think the New Orleans Hornets are one-hit wonders. I think the Jazz and the Hornets would still stand out next season.

The Houston Rockets will always be dangerous with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. I don’t know what’s wrong with Nuggets when they have Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, and a proper system will make the team a contender. I can bet the Portland Trailblazers will make the playoffs next season, they did well this season, and with Greg Oden in their line-up next season…

The Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks, the Seattle Supersonics (with rookie-of-the-year Kevin Durant)… the West will be tougher all right.

But Andrew Bynum would be probably back next season to the Laker line-up. With Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom, and the rest of the excellent Laker roster that is led by the best player in the league, Kobe Bryant, they have a good chance to go back to the Finals.

I dream of a Kobe Bryant-LeBron James showdown in the Finals, but that could wait. I want the Celtics back in the Finals, too. I want revenge. I want the Lakers beat them the next time – better if it’s a sweep.

Enjoy the championship as much as you can, Celtics. If all goes well, the Lakers will win their 15th title next season; Kobe will win his regular dose of All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive Team First Team Selections, his 2nd Regular Season MVP, his 3rd All-Star MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year award, his 3rd scoring championship, and his first Finals MVP.

Win or lose, I will always love the Lakers. That is what love is all about, being there in the ups and downs.

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