Around the end of the third quarter of the Lakers’ decisive Game 6 victory over the Celtics, I began to do what any self-respecting die-hard L.A. fan would do with their team facing Game 7 against the Celtics – immediately look around my home for things to sell to get me in the door for today’s showdown. To the lucky 18,997 fans who lied, cheated, stole, bribed or otherwise maneuvered their way into what is arguably the most epic Southern California sporting event of the past decade, I say this: enjoy, savor, cherish this moment. Win or lose (especially, win), attending a Game 7 in-person against your archrival is the very reason the term “once-in-a-lifetime” was invented.
This isn’t Game 7 against Indiana, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit or Orlando. These are the Boston Celtics and it means so much more. The coaches know it. The players know it. And, most importantly, Kobe knows it.
“I look back years from now or even when I was a kid, you talk about being in this situation, I’d be really excited,” said Kobe about what makes a Game 7 so unique. “But when I’m in the moment right now, I’ve got to play. I’ve got to focus on that. I can’t focus on the hype about it.”
Since Tuesday, I’ve tried my personal best not to add to the hype, but all it took was one SportsCenter Finals montage to know it was a losing battle. When some of the NBA’s all-time greats like Magic Johnson announce that even they’re ready to hit the floor and duke it out, you know you’re about to witness something special. The beauty of being a fan is that we get to soak up the emotion just as much as the players on the court, without worrying that we’re going air ball a three or otherwise wilt under the pressure.
As fans, we also get to hypothesize on the significance of this game and how 48 minutes (maybe more if we’re really lucky) of basketball has the power to shape an entire generation of players and one very prominent coach. It’s been written and talked about ad nauseum by now, but Kobe’s legacy likely hangs in the balance with Game 7. While his newly signed contract extension means the forum blue and gold will remain an elite team for at least the next two to three years, a Game 7 failure against the Celtics is the kind of thing that could stay with him for the rest of his career; the type of annoying asterisk that won’t show up in the record books, but everyone knows it’s there. It goes without saying, but if tonight’s game is close down the stretch and Bryant plays a major role in a Lakers win, his legend will reach a level that we haven’t seen in the NBA since His Airness retired.
Kobe’s not the only player whose lasting image will be shaped as the supporting players on both sides have a lot on the line too. If Pau Gasol shows up big in Game 7, he may as well hang his own jersey from the STAPLES Center rafters. A title for Ron Artest and another Game 6-type performance would go a long way toward removing the stigma surrounding a player who is undoubtedly one of the best wing defenders this league has ever seen. Lamar Odom can also cement his place in Lakers history as a super-sub with a strong Game 7. Even Andrew Bynum, one leg and all, has the ability to change perceptions with a gutty showing. Phil Jackson’s coaching future will also almost certainly be impacted by the outcome of Game 7.
As of Thursday morning, a single upper deck ticket was still going for somewhere north of $550 on most after-market ticket sites. Too much to watch the Lakers win it all or is this moment “priceless,” just like the MasterCard commercials say? Maybe tonight’s game 7 isn’t quite “life or death” as Kobe suggested, but it’s about the closest thing to it. For the privileged few inside STAPLES Center – yell with all your heart; millions of Lakers fans will live vicariously through you.