Look, before I write anything of substance in this space, I’m going to just come out and say it: I love the 1990s. I miss that decade. The slap bracelets, the light up L.A. Gear sneakers, the “T.G.I.F.” lineup on ABC, POGs, playing “Goldeneye 007” on Nintendo 64 with your friends until the sun came up.
You name it, I remember it. It was those things and much more that made my childhood a fun one.
Of course, being a sports fan, and an NBA fan specifically, what also made the ’90s memorable was the NBA on NBC. The theme music was unforgettable. My friends and I would hum it whenever we were playing basketball outside (did you know John Tesh composed it? Yes, he actually has done something of merit in his career). I remember the graphics, the broadcasters (most notably Dick Enberg, who hasn’t done a basketball game since God knows when), and the logos and jerseys of the teams, and the way they looked while I watched them on TV.
The one thing that was missing from that time though, was a Lakers championship. Surprisingly, they didn’t win one in the 1990s. They came close a couple of times, but didn’t win it. I grew up watching videos of Magic Johnson and became well versed in the Lakers’ history through books and old NBA footage, just waiting for my time as a fan to come so I could know what it felt like to see the Lakers win a championship, like so many other Angelenos before me.
But that day finally came in June 2000, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led the franchise to its first NBA title since 1988.
From a kids’ perspective, that’s almost forever. When that final buzzer sounded, it wasn’t just a relief to the players who had waited several years to experience that moment, it was a relief to me. So this is what it feels like! I never want to stop feeling like this! All those years of unfulfilled potential, the three airballs by Kobe in Utah, it was all gone. We were champions. And really, there wasn’t much else to say. Emotions speak for themselves at that point.
Fast forward to 2009, and the Lakers had won two more titles, but none since 2002, and if it’s possible to be starving for a championship when the last one was just seven years ago, well, this city was starving for one.
So was I. I felt embarrassed by their Finals performance in 2004, and frustrated that they were weaker than the Celtics last season, as I had to watch the Boston fans celebrate yet another championship won against their hated rivals.
I wanted payback. I had no doubt the Lakers would be back in the Finals this year. None. I always believed that to true. That’s not me being a revisionist fan, that’s me being honest. I just knew after last June, that the history books would say that in 2009 the Los Angeles Lakers redeemed themselves for their loss to the Celtics the year before. Other teams had done it, and we would do it too.
The only question was, would the Celtics be back for Round 2, or would we have to beat another team?
Unfortunately, Boston lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Orlando, killing my dream of seeing the Lakers get revenge. I swear, I felt like Bruce Wayne plotting my revenge on my parents’ killers. Only I didn’t go out and learn martial arts and create an alter ego. I had to sit and watch my team on TV.
So, we didn’t get to see a Finals rematch, or the much hyped “Kobe vs. LeBron” Finals, but when your team is just four wins away from the championship, it’s easy to put aside all other agendas and root them on.
Even though Orlando gave the Lakers three very tough games in the middle of the series, I was pretty calm the whole time. I knew we would win. My thoughts were on how I was going to feel afterwards. Would I silently pump my fist, or jump around the house? Would I not have any emotion, because after all, this was all just a formality? I was curious to find out.
As the final seconds of Game 5 ticked off, and I saw Kobe’s smile get larger and larger, and Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol start to celebrate, it hit me. When the clock hit triple zeros, I became emotional. Just a little bit. And here comes the part that I will always believe until the day I die:
Sports isn’t just a game. It’s not just entertainment. It’s not just business. It is all those things, but so much more. For this season, for this team, it was about redemption. It was about proving to everyone that the Lakers were the toughest team on the block – that they were all grown up and ready take what was rightfully theirs. They were punked last year. Embarrassed. But they came back ready to avenge their loss. And they did.
They rolled through the regular season, winning 65 games.
Cleveland and Boston? Beat them every time they met . Gasol finally became an All-Star again. Kobe scored a record 61 points at Madison Square Garden. And just when you might have doubted them after a seven game series against the undermanned Houston Rockets, just when you thought maybe their role players weren’t stepping up like they used to, and when many critics picked the Denver Nuggets to upset them in the West Finals, they rose up and finished them off in six games, including a dominating win in the clincher.
The Lakers answered every challenge, and lay to rest any concerns that always seemed to come up from the media. Maybe the media types were just bored and wanted something to talk about to sell papers and get TV ratings. (Who am I kidding? It’s the media we’re talking about. Of course they were!)
Watching Sunday night, as Kobe and Fisher and Phil Jackson answered questions about their individual journeys, and what this title means to them after the ups and downs they’ve been through together, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. This is my team.
I used to draw the “Lakers” logo when I was bored in elementary school. I have Lakers pennants in my room, and an autographed Kobe basketball from the time I met him at the Glendale Galleria. I have basketball cards, and hats, and my “Magic Johnson: Always Showtime” VHS tape lying somewhere around in my mom’s house.
When you put that much stock into something, all that effort, whether it be emotionally or financially, it’s tough to have to suffer through the bad times. And in life, being passionate about something and have it fall apart, to have it go completely unexpectedly, it hurts. We all know that feeling.
So that’s why this Lakers season was so important to me. In the year 2000, I was a kid. I hadn’t experienced any tough part of life yet. The toughest days were when the Lakers lost. When they won that year, I didn’t know what I was winning.
This championship? It’s representative of how a team or an individual can bounce back after life hits them in the face. The Lakers have felt the lowest of lows, and came back and found redemption. They found out that when it ends, it doesn’t really end, that another opportunity is opening. That when you lose, life is just waiting to be won again.
And when that day finally comes for someone else? Well, there probably won’t be much to say. Emotions will speak for themselves.