Archives For September 2009

Lisa Leslie’s Last Game: The Gallery

Kurt —  September 15, 2009

Lisa Leslie is a basketball icon — one of the best women’s high school and college players ever, she is a four time gold medlalist, three time WNBA MVP and two-time league champion. What’s more, she has been the face of the league — she has been it’s Jordan, it’s Magic and Bird, it’s Miken for years. And she did it with class. In this final year, she still led the team in scoring (15.4 per game) and was second in rebounding (6.6). At age 37.

As a tribute to her, a very good sports photographer friend of mine named William Johnson went to Leslie’s last game at Staples and came back with this photo gallery. She will be back Wednesday night as the Sparks start their playoff run against the only professional basketball team left in Seattle (the Storm), and tickets are still available at the Sparks Web site.

Enjoy.

Misunderstood Lakers Teams: 2003-04

Kurt —  September 11, 2009


Today we turn this space over to Aaron, who reached out to me wanting to write about the 2003-04 team. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the Lakers podcast with the LA Times/ESPN where Brian and I talk some about the point guard position this year and a little about teams like this.

Recently Kurt wrote about the Lakers team he missed. Today it’s time to think about the Lakers team that we have repeatedly been told not to miss: The 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers.

The first time you saw Mitch Kupchak sandwiched between Gary Payton’s mouth and Karl Malone’s rippling biceps, the Lakers were officially welcoming one of the best Point Guards and Power Forwards in NBA history to the city. Lakers fans everywhere began to envision basketball perfection, perpetually on display, performed by four of the games all time greats on basketball’s biggest Staples sponsored stage. The Lakers were freshly removed from three straight championship titles achieved by surrounding their two all universe talents with quality roll players that sat on the perimeter and made opponents pay for double teaming Kobe and Shaq. Even while dominating the field, Los Angeles had long been outplayed by PG’s and PF’s. Now, you add a hall of fame PG and a hall of fame PF to a team already consisting of a hall of fame SG and a hall of fame center—even Bill Plaschke could tell this team was as loaded as Lindsay Lohan.

As of today, this team is laughed at within several basketball circles. When any team adds star player(s) to a team with other star players, the line “Look at the 2004 Lakers!” is readily used. It is time that misconception and a bunch of others are laid to rest. Here are the reasons the 2004 Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers did not underachieve and why history should rewrite itself. These guys were labeled as the “Hall of Fame Team” and years later it seems they should be labeled as the All Misrepresented Team.

1) Karl Malone Got Hurt

The Lakers started out of the box with 18 wins and only 3 losses. That’s right… they were on pace for 70 wins. Everything was going to plan as the whole league was intimidated by the “Hall of Fame Team.” Team being the operative word, the Lakers were actually playing like one. It was some of the most beautiful basketball I have ever seen as the Mailman and the Glove played with the freedom of not having to live up to their monikers for the first time in their historic careers. Unfortunately it was short lived as Karl Malone went down with a torn MCL and missed most of the season.

The team never was the same as they finished the year with a respectable but not eye popping 56 and 26 record. Malone came back for the playoffs and actually played well on one leg against Kevin Garnett, helping the Lakers win the western conference championship. Unfortunately he reinjured his knee and couldn’t play for most of the Finals as the Pistons had their way inside. Most basketball people feel a healthy Malone would have meant another Lakers world championship. Rasheed Wallace looked like…well… a healthy Karl Malone against back up Lakers PF and current Ukrainian motor scooter repair man Slava Medvedenko. Of course, a couple seasons later young Slava was out of the NBA all together, much to the delight of Lakers fans everywhere and Stephen A. Smith somewhere. At a time when European star Forwards were falling out of trees and onto the doorsteps of NBA franchises as often as Persian girls fall out of Lamar Odom’s bed and styling gel falls out of Rick Fox’s hair, the Lakers ended up with… Stanislav Medvedenko.

2) Shaq and Kobe Were Out Of Shape

We were all used to seeing Shaq out of shape, but never like this. Shaq saw his scoring average plummet to 21.5 PPG from 27.5 PPG the year before. In fact, in the Finals the Pistons didn’t even bother double-teaming him. It was the first season “the most dominant ever” was not the most dominant ever again. At just 31 years of age Shaq had taken a big step back. At a time when players like Michael Jordan, who take great care of their bodies, are still at their physical peak… Shaq was now a liability on defense and not a sure thing to score in the paint against single coverage. Actually, it was Karl Malone who ended up as the people’s favorite big man thanks to Shaq doing his best 2009 Lamar Odom impression taking so many nights off.

Something nobody could have predicted though was the condition Kobe Bryant was in after being accused of sexual assault that summer. He was quoted as saying he didn’t touch a ball the entire off-season because he was too emotionally tormented—he was not all about basketball for the first time in his life—and who could blame him. It actually showed as his physique didn’t improve from one year to the next like in seasons past, and it also reflected in his performance as he saw his FG% drop to 43.8% and his 3pt FG% sink to 32.7% in spite of playing with great talent around him for the first time as a starter in the NBA. Only a couple people know what really went down in that Colorado hotel room… but what we all do know is it wasn’t just two people who got screwed that night. Lakers fans around the world got a bad deal that season.

3) Malone and Payton Were Old

Gary Payton was 35 years old and Karl Malone was 40 years old. When folks argue that you can have too many good players on one team and reference the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers as an example it’s a little strange so many people forget this wasn’t a season where Malone or Payton were close to their primes. Neither of them was close to all-star talents at this point in their respective careers even though the 40-year-old Malone might have been closer to 35 with HGH seemingly poring out of his perfectly fitting Wranglers. So as the media and fans alike were labeling this squad an all-star team in reality they only had two all stars in Shaq and Kobe. Compare that to the 1998 Lakers who actually had 4 players make the all-star team (Kobe, Shaq, Jones, and Van Exel) and failed to even make it to the Finals. Now when Shaq goes to the Cavs the media isn’t expecting him to be the guy who can still lift a house, they are expecting him to be the guy who is the size of a house. In 2003 the media questioned whether there were enough balls to go around more than they worried about the ages of Malone and Payton.

4) Gary Payton Was Actualy Pretty Good

Many Lakers fans like to think the Glove had a disappointing year. In fact… Gary Payton is the one guy fans still get on to this day. He is the one mainly blamed for the Lakers perceived failures in 2004. In actuality it was his last good year as a pro. If the 35-year-old Derek Fisher this year could shoot 47%, pass out 6 assists a night, and put up 15 PPG like the 35-year-old Gary Payton did that season I would be the happiest Fisher hater in Los Angeles. It is also a misconception that his defense was dreadful that year. Now of course he wasn’t the defensive stopper that he was in his prime but the main reason PG’s would hurt the Lakers in the playoffs (as Tex Winter so famously serenaded the Lakers locker room with profanity at the Palace in Detroit during the Finals) was Shaq’s effort. He refused to step out and guard the pick and roll. The man apparently just saved his donut calories for the offensive end. You can’t hold Payton liable for Shaq’s extreme laziness. He pushed the ball up the floor better than any Lakers PG since Magic Johnson getting easy buckets for him and teammates making that Lakers unit often more fun to watch than any of the 3-peat teams. The Glove still fit.

5) The Lakers Had No Depth

The team had was just 5 deep with Payton, Kobe, Malone, Shaq, and Fisher. Rick Fox and Horace Grant were all but retired, Rookie forward Luke Walton didn’t play except in the Finals, and Kareem Rush was actually one of the top guys off the bench and Brian Cook played more than him. That’s right… human traffic cone Brian Cook. Devean George who was given the chance to play and play well with Fox getting up in years and being sidelined due to various injuries, I’m guessing mostly pertaining to various cosmetic and rhinoplasty procedures gone wrong. George couldn’t perform even though he was playing next to star talent and all the while being left wide-open ala Trevor Ariza in the 2009 playoffs, but Devean couldn’t deliver half of what Trevor did. And we all know who the back up PF was… say it with me Stephen A. The Lakers went from a team with 2 superstars, no good players, and 5 to 8 good roll players in their championship days to a team with 2 superstars, 2 good players, and only 1 (Fisher) good roll player. They weren’t completely the talent rich roster people like to remember. I mean you have more than 5 players to win a ring right?

6) They Actually Were A Great Team

In spite of the Malone injury, the age of Karl and Gary, the lack of depth, Kobe not being in physical or mental shape, and Shaq starting to decline, Jon Hollinger’s number cruncher still has the Lakers as the 57th best Finals team of all time right behind West Unseld’s Washington Bullets who won the title in 1978. The Lakers won a pretty tough western conference and had some great games and special moments along the way. The Derek Fisher .4 shot will be celebrated throughout the NBA for a very long while.

So, the next time you hear people make a crack about the 2004 Western Conference Champion Lakers please remind them there is another team in LA to poke fun at. There is no such thing as having too many good players on a team, just like there is no such thing as having too much money. If you want less great players on a team we can trade Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest back for Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook, Smush Parker, and Tierre Brown. That 2004 team should be given as much respect as the 2008 Lakers who lost in the Finals to the Celtics. Both teams played in the Finals without one of their top big men (Malone & Bynum) and both teams played to their capabilities. They both came up a little short, but neither team should be an example of how not to construct a roster. Both teams were good but had some major holes. I mean they weren’t the 2009-2010 Lakers or anything…

Lakers/Celtics Stories: Some Favorites

Kurt —  September 9, 2009

NBA Finals Game 3: Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
There were a lot of great stories in the comments, and I’ve decided to give a few a little more play. (For the record, it is Converse and not I that chooses who the five winners of the shoes will be — and to learn more about the shoes click here.)

Or, as Chris J. said: “The Converse Weapon, that’s the shoe/that let’s Magic do what he was born to do”

Also, be sure to check out some of the great responses over at Celtics Hub.

Jason Lodge

Ever since I was a kid and my dad passed on his love of the Lakers I’ve had highlight reels going through my head whenever I play ball.

When I make a great pass, I’m Magic. Impossible layups and I’m thinking Worthy. Skinning my knees diving for the ball and I’m Rambis. Any impossible shot that I shouldn’t have taken…if it goes in I’m thinking Kobe. And of course, it’s almost always against the Celtics.

Making it all the way to the 2008 Finals was so great and unexpected, and then losing to the Celtics, especially in such crushing fashion, made me stop watching or reading any sort of sports news until the NBA started up again.

I needed to see redemption.

Suffice to say, I had the 2008 Christmas game between the Lakers and Celtics circled, underlined, and bold-face-typed on my calandar. To me, this was the first real game of the season.

I had the whole morning planned and scheduled. Family breakfast, open presents, GAMETIME!

Enter my sadistic sister, whining about how we all haven’t spent a good day together as a family in forever and she wants us to go out for brunch about an hour away.

Dad and I gently reminded my mom and sister that there was a Laker game on, one which we had been anticipating for five months. In the end, however, it was decided that the the advent of Tivo has made watching a game live obsolete, even a Lakers/Celtics game.

So here we are, lost, an hour and a half from home at 11:30, still looking for the restaurant, and I’m trying so hard to keep that Cristmas spirit from cracking my face open.

Finally, it occurs to Dad that the rental car should have a GPS in the glove compartment and asks me to check. I didn’t find a GPS, but I DID find tickets to the Laker game in there.

Turns out, as soon as the Laker’s schedule came out, the fam started saving to get good seats so we could all go.

It..was…AWESOME. Seeing Kobe start off aggressive and take Ray Allen apart; Gasol and Bynum controlling the paint with passion and effort; Odom standing up to KG and letting him know that this Lakers team was not the one from their previous meetings; Ariza’s reDUNKulous hustle plays; and so much more.

I lost my voice by halftime, I was yelling so much. It didn’t matter though because the crowd was electric. It was the best regular season crowd I was ever a part of. They didn’t even need the jumbotron; everyone just stood and screamed almost from start to finish.

Celebrating that win with my amazing family is not only my favorite Lakers/Celtics memory, it’s my favorite Christmas memory as well, even though I was totally punk’d.

And, yes, I still have that game on Tivo. It is STILL freaking awesome.

Gabriel R.

It was back when I was 7 years old. All I did was play with my friends or with toys.

I went to a friend of my older cousin’s house and they were watching the end of the 7th game of the 1984 finals.

I watched the last 10 or so minutes of the game not understanding the actual game at that age, but somehow I could comprehend the fact that it was an intense match up. Then the clock counted down to zero and all these people in green and white flooded onto the court on the living room TV.

I simply asked, “why are all those people running around and jumping like crazy?” My cousin told me, “they hate L.A.!”

Something inside of me took that as a personal insult, one that I never felt before. I felt L.A. was the best place in the world and nothing could compare. I didn’t understand the history, rivalry and drama the teams had. I just knew deep down inside from that point forward I would be a Lakers fan for life.

Michael

During game 1 of the Finals last year I was standing in line for the bathroom in the Boston Garden, dressed head to toe in Lakers gear, just hoping no one would give me too much grief. When all of a sudden the two guys in back of me, who were arguing about the Red Sox vs Yankee’s said very loudly “why are we arguing about this when there is a Laker in the room?” Then the entire bathroom, which was packed to the brim, started chanting “Beat LA, Beat LA” as they circled around me, arms entwined, football huddle style. After about 5 minutes of this, they finally let me escape.
Then when I was outside the bathroom the original guy who announced my presence, comes up to me and says ” I hope they weren’t too rough to you in there, but I bet you dress differently next time.” In which I replied, ” I didn’t fly 3000 miles not to rep my team.” He just looked at me with this crazy look of respect in his eyes and said “yeah, I guess we both have been waiting for this for a very long time, be safe.” There was just something about that moment, about the look in his eyes, that showed me that the best part of a rivalry is that you are never in it alone.

Texas Rob

As a 14 yr old in Colorado Springs that wasn’t really into sports I was clueless. All I knew was a neighbor hood kid I looked up to really liked the LA Rams… Flash Forward Dad gets shipped to TX… Hanging out with new TX buddies… One asked me “What’s your favorite team?” I answered with all the bravado of a sports genius and said “Los Angeles” Then he proceeded to ask “So what’s your favorite Football team?” , then the shock set in… I thought I’d just answered that question. So I stumbled out “…Los Angeles” …. Then of course came the next question “What’s your favorite Baseball team? “ Sweat was now beading up on my forhead and I thought I’d go with it… and said .. you guessed it “Los Angeles” .. The year was 1977 and I was inducted into the Sports world with these three teams. All those teams had decent teams in the following years and I came off looking like I knew what I was talking about. I engrossed myself into Baseball with my buddies .. Garvey, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Baker and all the others were one of a kind. What a great pick!… Well now rolls around 1979… and My buddies clearly into Basketball more than I told me that Los Angeles got Earvin Johnson… I was like …. So? Could there be a bigger understatement? So? Anyways…. He baptized me into basketball and I’ve been nuts ever since. Bonus… I’m 18 now, 1980 and Dad’s favorite team is the Celtics…seems anyone over the age of 40 was a Celtic fan back then… Well needless to say we had serious battles in the living room, it got so bad my Mom would leave the house. He was a Bird fanatic, and I was a Magic man… It’s like Oil and vinager… they just don’t mix!! But it bonded me and my dad in ways that only competition can… constructive arguing with your dad is a commodity that you usually didn’t get…. “Because …I said so” was the norm. So I really don’t have any one moment of the Lakers/Celtics that really sticks out… But I do have a lasting memory of me and Dad collectively cleaning up the room from throwing crap around before my mom got home. Seeing my dad look at me every time Heinsen said something totally homeristic, with that “I told you so” look…. And me, shooting back that same look when they talked about Magic the same way. He bought me Magic gifts for Xmas, and I did the same with Bird. They were our heros, and arch nemesis’ all rolled into one fantastic generation of Basketball.

Chris H.

one of my great memories from the mid 80’s teams was living in Hermosa beach and being a Lakers fan. (I think it was ‘85)

all season, start the day off with the LA times and breakfast at “The Good Stuff” on the strand, reading about the Lakers victory the night before, then switching over to read how the Celtics did, usually they won as well. (what a race that year!)

then during the finals, we had an apartment above the Comedy and Magic store near the pier, with a view of about the first 4 or 5 blocks to the beach, 180 degrees north/south, and big sliding doors open to the ocean. during the finals we could hear the whole town go up in a simultaneous roar on all good Lakers plays, or a huge round of boos if it was against us.
that was a great playoff run that year, enjoying the whole city and being a part of that

JKM

These were early ’80s, I was 6 or 7 years old. At that time I lived in a little town in ex-Yugoslavia, a small but basketball crazy country, as evidenced by all those guys who made it to the NBA. Yes, even Marko Jaric ;) I had a friend, Dejan. He was a few years older than me and, for reasons forgotten, my idol. Maybe it was just looking up to a bigger guy. Anyway, I loved being around him and trusted everything he said.

One day I was at his place and there were posters on the walls with basketball players in yellow uniforms. I know now it’s purple and gold, but that was then. I asked who those guys were. My friend said something along these lines: “NBA is the best basketball league in the world. There are only two teams that count: Lakers and Celtics. Lakers are better. And this is Magic Johnson.”

That moment I was hooked. It’s funny because many years would pass before I got the chance to actually watch an NBA game – on TV. To this day I’ve never gone to the USA. And I don’t now what happened to Dejan. It’s probably 15 years since I last heard about him. But I woke up at 3 AM to watch 2009 finals and I cheered like I cheer no other team.

Yueh_Fei

I was working in Boston during the Lakers’ second championship run in its 3peat.

Before the Western Conference Finals, Lakers vs. Spurs, I found myself getting drunk at a pub arguing with a bunch of Celtics fans. I was a local. The Celtics were dismal but it was hockey playoffs and the pub was packed. I ended up declaring that the Lakers, then underdogs to the Spurs with no home court advantage, would sweep the Spurs in 4. The guys I was arguing with nearly fell out of their chairs with laughter and pretty soon, egged on by all the beer and shots, I ended up betting everyone at the pub, other than the bartender who was trying to stop me.

Of course we know how that championship run turned out. Kobe had two spectacular games at the Alamo Dome that broke the backs of the twin towers (and he was dunking repeatedly over them in Game 1).

For years afterwards I was getting free beers from somebody at that pub. I haven’t been back for some years now but I am pretty sure a whole lot of people still owe me beers.

Darius

I’ve loved all the triumphant moments, for sure. The baby hook, 1985, Magic’s off-balance/one legged/leaning left bank shot that won a game, etc, etc. But, and this may sound strange, the memories/moments that I love the most are the ones that keep me hating the Celtics…Every time I think of the McHale clothesline, every replay of Don Nelson hitting that high bouncing jumper off the back heel, every Celtic fan whining about how 1986 isn’t the same because of the Lakers “choke job” against Houston (when Sampson hit that totally lucky volleyball set looking jumper), every excuse about how in 1987 McHale had a broken foot and everyone was injured so that title is less than worthy, every mention of how we wouldn’t have won in 2008 even with Bynum/Ariza, all the lunacy about how in 2009 they would have won with a healthy KG, how they still have the lead with 17, all the BS about leprechauns and the ghost of Red, all the back and forth I have with my friends who follow that repugnant team….man, just writing that got me ready for the season to start. I really, really don’t like them and every memory that reinforces that is a good one. Those memories just fuel me to dislike them more and root against them harder and savor every victory over them like it’s the only thing that ever mattered.

Like I said, I’ll always love those epic moments where being a fan is rewarded with it’s best reward – the vanquishing of a true rival. But those moments would mean nothing without the hate. So, the memories I love the most are the ones that keep those feelings alive.

Don Jasinski

Following the ‘69 Game-4(?) last second victory shot by the Celtics, my 5?7? roommate was right behind Wilt at mid-court when some arm reached over his shoulder and wailed closed fist into the middle of Chamberlin’s back. My roommate froze and then melted into the center jump circle as Chamberlin whirled and just stared into his eyes before proceeding off the court without saying a word. Wilt Chamberlain taught me to better appreciate sportmanship and champion class acts both on the court that series and off the court that night. I bled Celtic green since 1960 but ever since 1969 I no longer “hate” opposing players and do recognize Celtic pride and teamwork demonstrated by non-Celtic players, too

Gatinho

One of the most maddening aspects of watching the Lakers and Celtics on national TV back in the ’80’s was the fact that ex-coach and mega-homer Tommy Heinsohn was announcing for NBC (I think).

Imagine Mr. Tommy Points announcing a nationally televised game!

Being reared on the “word’s eye view” of Chick Hearn who was fast to criticize the home team, “The Lakers couldn’t beat the Little Sisters of the Poor the way they are playing tonight.”…and would laud the achievements of the visitors if they were deserving.

Hearing Heinsohn on those big Sunday mid season games and even bigger Finals match ups spout his biases was particularly painful. We almost felt that it wasn’t fair that there was no voice in the booth to contradict or reel in Tommy.

This became epitomized by a quote of his that my brother and I still throw out to this day. The circumstances are lost (the game, the year, the site). But we just remember Heinsohn bellowing after a Danny Ainge sacrifice your body hustle play…

“Byron Scott is a great guard, but he’s no Danny Ainge!”

SCinRB

We made it to the Gahden one afternoon and noticed that they wanted money for a 3 minute tour of the parquet. No way was I going to pay a cent for that. So I sauntered around the arena lobby with my wife and 3-1/2 year old daughter in her little Future Lakers Club T-shirt.

Lo and behold there was an open sports bar in the lobby, full of Boston fans. So I went in for a cold refresher. Everyone noticed my shirt and started razzing me, especially the bartenders.

I whispered to my wife, “Honey take a picture of what I am about to do from over by the door,” and grabbed my daughter by her little hand.

I raised my glass to the room and said. “OK you guys are all a bunch of great fans. I’d like to propose a toast.” Everyone, including the bartenders raised glasses.

I yelled out “Here’s to Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers!!!!”

It took a second or two for this to hit everyone before pandemonium broke lose. In that second I drained my glass, picked up my adorable little daughter, and using her as a shield made it out the door through a torrent of abuse and beer!

Unfortunately my wife never got the shot. Funny she was even mad at me for some reason. Guess that’s why she’s now my ex-wife!

My daughter doesn’t remember this, but she’s proud to have been a participant.

John Mooney

I was in Santa Cruz California on vacation with my ex wife (1986). She dragged me out to go shopping when I stumbled into a bar called the Med. The bar was packed with purple and gold clad patrons and one lone celtics fan. Everytime James Worthy took Kevin Mcale to the Rack and scored Dubya–would have to drink. He never made it out of that bar. Nobody knew him or where he was staying. I think Big Game’s Playoff average that year was 23 PTs per game. Dude had NO chance.

The Other Stephen

my favorite memory is recent. it was during the regular season that kg got called for a foul while guarding odom, and as he turned away i saw odom slap him in the a** as if to tell him to keep up the good work. i couldn’t tell for sure, but as they squared up, odom seemed to be saying, “what the f**k you gonna do about it?”

Dunk Specialist

The best moment for me was when the Celtics fans started cheering for MVP for Kobe! For those of us who grew up in the 80’s that was just so impossible. Yes the Celtics had somethihng like an 18 game losing streak and Kobe was scoring 35 a night, but the hatred and bad blood of the 80’s would have never let the old Celtics fan do that. I am sure the older Celtics fans watching on TV were sick to their stomachs.

Jeff

a friend of mine was vacationing in Boston this year, and he’s a Laker fan such as myself. The tour guide was taking them on a tour, and when they passed the Garden, he went on to talk about how the Lakers got murdered in 08. My friend poked his head up and asked what the results of 09 were, cause he was a little foggy on how that year turned out. The guide mumbled something about Selective Memory, and my friend pulled out his Laker Championship hat and wore it the rest of the tour. That story made my day.

st

For me the only Celtics experiences were in the good old days, the mid to late 80’s at Gino’s East Pizza in Manhattan Beach. We would order their thick crust with spinach and pepperoni and pitchers of beer would flow at the bar for everyone during the Finals games against the dreaded Celtics for a two-week period after work and on the weekends, taking over our lives at that time. The unity of Lakers fans just hating and despising the lepprecon’s was unbelievable and just loads of fun. Rooting for Magic, Worthy and sharp-shooting Scott with Kareem in the middle commanded by Pat Riley against Bird, McHale, Parish and Ainge lead by K.C. Jones was about as exciting as it got in those days, maybe ever.

Sean

For a Bostonian friend of mine who had his birthday in July, I bought one of those picture frames that shows a sequence of pictures and loaded the ‘09 Lakers victory celebration into it and sent it to him. He was not very happy! He has to be at work at 6am, so for a week straight he would call me when he got up (2 somethin’ in the morning for me) and play the ‘08 Boston celebration into the speaker. Good times…

Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
One of my favorite Lakers/Celtics memories comes from around 1985. As I’ve said here before I worked at the LA Sports Arena as an usher for Clippers games. As it is now, the place was full when the league’s biggest stars came to the Arena — and in the mid 1980s the star teams were the Lakers and Celtics.

Where I was stationed for one Clippers/Celtics game (more like Christians to the lions) was right where the teams walked off the court to go the locker rooms. The Celtics were coming off the floor after the game and McHale and Bird were walking together when they were just past me I decided to yell out. “Easy win, but you can’t do that to the Lakers.”

McHale turned and just glared at me, before just walking on to the locker room. I loved that moment.

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We’ve all had moments we loved in the Lakers/Celtics series — maybe it was the baby skyhook; or an encounter you had with a Celtics fan. Whatever it is, I want to hear it.

Forum Blue & Gold along with Celtics Hub is running a contest in cooperation with Converse — the shoes that Magic and Bird wore back in the day. We want to hear about your memories, your personal stories of the rivalry (put them in the comments); I will have a post up with some of the best in the next couple of days. From that, Converse will select their five favorites and those people will win a pair of the new Weapon Evo (so be sure to put your email in the box marked as such when you comment, so we can reach you).

You can learn more about the new Converse Weapon Evo here, and order yourself a pair here.

This should be fun. We want to keep this semi-civil — go ahead and throw a couple elbows, but don’t do anything that would get you kicked out of the game.

Tell us what you love about the rivalry — you could get a new pair of shoes out of the deal, and piss off some Celtics fans in the process. Does it get any better than that?


Regular contributor here Chris J. sent this in, a fantastic look back at a team that was a lot of fun, in part because there was no pressure.

Sometimes the most enjoyable gifts we receive are those which we never expected.

When I think back over the 25+ years I’ve followed the Lakers, like any other fan I’ve got countless memories of great teams, great players and great games. Some came with championships or Hall of Fame resumes; others were memorable for the heartbreak they caused.

But in all my years of watching the purple and gold, I’ve probably never enjoyed a non-Finals season more than watching the “Lake Show”-era Lakers in 1994-95. Few, if any, fans expected anything of that team, and perhaps no Lakers team ever delivered more unexpected pleasure than those guys did during that memorable season.

NOTHING TO LOSE

The scene in Inglewood wasn’t pretty in the summer of 1994. After a 63-win effort in 1989-90, the Lakers had posted just one Finals appearance in their past five seasons. Magic Johnson led L.A. to 58 wins in his last full season in 1990-91 before losing to the Bulls in that season’s Finals. And then the losses began to mount.

L.A. won just 43 games in its first post-Magic HIV announcement season, then slipped to 39-43 the following year. In 1993-94, head coach Randy Pfund was fired late in the season, with Magic taking over as head coach for a disastrous final 16 games in which the Lakers finished 5-11. For the first time in 18 seasons, the 33-win Lakers missed the playoffs in ‘94.

Heading into the following season, Sports Illustrated’s annual NBA preview called for a Suns-Magic Finals in June 1995 (which proved to be half correct), and predicted the Lakers would finish fifth in the seven-team Pacific Division, behind Phoenix, Seattle, Golden State and Portland.

SI’s outlook noted the Lakers’ offseason hiring of “low-profile” head coach Del Harris, criticized center Vlade Divac for his frequent outside shooting, and noted the absence of a solid frontcourt rebounder. The story concluded that, “Laker fans can console themselves in these lean times with memories of the Showtime days.”

Unbeknownst to SI, however, general manager Jerry West and the front office had already begun the rebuilding process. That unwanted playoff absence meant a trip to the NBA Draft Lottery, and there West tabbed a winner in Temple G/F Eddie Jones.

In September, West rescued F Cedric Ceballos from the Phoenix bench for a future first round pick, and in October Doug Christie (and his wife’s purse) were unloaded to the Knicks for a pair of future second-round picks. The latter move was pure addition by subtraction.

James Worthy began the campaign on the injured list, and on Nov. 10 retired without playing a game that season. Aside from PG Sedale Threatt, who was entering his 12th campaign, the Lakers were committed to a youth movement. By June, they’d become the youngest team in the playoffs with an average age of just 26.

YOUTH IS SERVED

Behind the rookie Jones, second-year guard Nick Van Exel, third-year SG Anthony Peeler and Divac, who was in his sixth-year, the Lakers featured a versatile lineup which could run, pass and shoot with great proficiency.

The team’s regular season scoring average jumped by nearly 5 points per game from the prior season, while its three-point attempts nearly doubled (in part because the NBA moved the line closer to begin the ’94-‘95 season). The team’s assists also increased by more than one per game.

Beyond the numbers, however, was the team’s unquestioned style. Van Exel was as cocky as they came, throwing shadow boxer’s punches in the air after he knocked down a big basket. Jones was a high-flying act Lakers fans hadn’t seen since Michael Cooper’s heyday. Ceballos had an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, as good a “garbage” scorer as anyone in the league. And Divac was, well, Divac.

The Lakers ended the ’94-’95 regular season with 15 more wins than the prior year. Only Dallas showed more improvement, at +23, thanks in large part to its addition of rookie Jason Kidd.

The “Lake Show” Lakers didn’t quit, coming back from a 13-point or greater deficit to win nine times that season. The “Lake Show” Lakers didn’t back down in close contests, either, taking a dozen games decided by three points or less. They also beat the defending champion Rockets all four times they met.

Key players were hurt, but others stepped up. Jones missed 18 consecutive games in one stretch after straining his shoulder on Feb. 19. L.A. kept rolling. Ceballos, a newly named All-Star, also tore a thumb ligament on Feb. 3 and missed 22 games. Yet L.A. stayed above .500 while those key starters were out.

Other examples: down 16 to start to the fourth quarter in Orlando, L.A. fought back to pull within a basket with 27 seconds to play before falling to the eventual Eastern Conference champions. Three nights later, the Lakers overcame a 14-point deficit at the end of three to top the Bulls on the road – and did so without Van Exel, Jones or Ceballos.

Guys like Divac, Threatt, Peeler, Tony Smith, Elden Campbell — and even rookies such as Pig Miller and Antonio Harvey — found a way to play hard and contribute for Harris. You simply never knew who was going to step up that season.

A POSTSEASON RUN

The Lakers finished fifth in the Western Conference, and the playoffs brought even more fun including a first-round upset of the SuperSonics that featured a memorable 22-minute delay when the lights went out at the team’s temporary home court in Tacoma.
After sending Seattle packing from the first round for a second consecutive year, L.A. met the favored Spurs in the Western Semis. Old-school fans will remember this series for two reasons.

In Game 3, Chick Hearn lost his voice due to laryngitis, and for the first time in 2,781 games a different voice was heard on the Lakers basketball network. (Chick completed the first half, then Stu Lantz finished the game as play-by-play man with Magic taking a seat as Stu’s color guy.)

Game 5 was truly one to remember. First, Van Exel hit a three-pointer with 10.2 seconds to play, sending the game in San Antonio to overtime. Minutes later he nailed a running three with a half-second to go that utterly silence the Alamodome as L.A. won 98-96. In terms of excitement, it was one of the greatest playoff wins I’ll ever remember as a fan, right up there with the Junior Skyhook, Horry’s Sacramento dagger in 2001, Fish’s 0.4 in 2004 and Fish’s bombs in Orlando last June.

In the end, the Lakers failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Spurs in six. San Antonio was subsequently upset by the Houston Rockets, with Hakeem Olajuwon & Co. next moving on to defeat a young Shaquille O’Neal and Orlando in the Finals.

While the Lakers failed to come home with a title, I frankly found that season’s team so much more enjoyable than many of those which did win it all come June. I’ll look back on 2009 with fondness because the Lakers won it all, but the journey was so much more arduous as a fan because there were so many expectations. It was hard to enjoy the journey watching last year’s team struggle against a devastated Rockets squad, for example. Some expected 70 wins, and a romp through the playoffs. Anything less, and we fans were ready to revolt.

Even in the Shaq-Kobe years, the wins came with so much drama, be it the feuding stars, Shaq taking half the season to “play himself into shape or the events associated with Eagle, Colo. Those Lakers just weren’t as easy to love.

But in ’94-’95 there were no high expectations, no unyielding pressure to live up to the hype. Instead, each game had a surprise in store, a young player who’d suddenly mature; an improbable comeback vs. a tough opponent; or guys giving their all to make up for the absence of an injured teammate.

Those little things made watching “Lake Show basketball such a fun experience – we never saw it coming, but oh what a ride it was.

Fate changed the Lakers’ course soon after, and the “Lake Show” wound up with a limited run thanks to Magic’s brief 2006 comeback, an upset Ceballos’ decision to skip out on the squad to go jet skiing at Lake Havasu, and then the fateful events of summer 1996 that brought a new direction – and the high expectations – that came with the signing of O’Neal and trade for Kobe Bryant. Peeler and Divac were traded, and the Lakers were no longer a band of young, overachieving stars.

Shaq-Kobe ultimately brought a title back to L.A. so we can only mourn the Lake Show’s closing to a degree – the goal is still to win it all, and I’ll take a championship season over any other. But part of me wishes we’d see the guys having more fun on the court – that unexpected, basketball joy – like we witnessed in 1994-95.

Perhaps this coming season will be that year.