Sometimes, I wish there were a way to control sports teams with the simple click of a TIVO remote–recording iconic moments, rewinding great plays, fast-forwarding through lulls and deleting moments we can’t bear to watch again. However, if we simply clicked “erase” on those ominous dark days, we’d also miss out on all of the character-building, resolve and perspective that defines eventual champions. In order to better understand just how far the Lakers have come in a somewhat astonishingly short period of time, we flip through the past decade’s history books for the 10 most painful Lakers moments from 2000-2010. Kleenex boxes: optional.
1). Game 6, 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, Lakers vs. Spurs: After back-to-back-to-back NBA titles, an old foe finally ended the Lakers dynastic reign in grandiose fashion, defeating the defending champions 110-82. As the final surreal moments of the clock ticked away, a camera panned to the Lakers bench, before closing in on the faces of Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant, tears flowing from both. As they cried, an entire nation of Lakers fans mourned with them.
2). Kobe Bryant arrested on suspicion of rape: The entire sports landscape felt the aftershock from the stunning July 4, 2003 announcement that an arrest warrant had been issued for the golden child of the NBA. The media salivated over the ensuing court proceedings as Eagle Rock, CO became a hotbed overnight, meanwhile the Lakers tried to downplay the drama on their way to the Finals. It’s been more than seven years since that fateful day and though few even mention that tiresome season anymore, the nightmare still resonates.
3). Detroit defeats L.A. to win the 2004 Championship: After an offseason overhaul that brought in Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Fisher’s miracle 0.4 shot to exact revenge against the Spurs in the Conference Semifinals and a season of dealing with Bryant’s legal drama, it was starting to look like the 2003-2004 injury-ravaged Lakers were a team of destiny. Unfortunately, that destiny involved a shocking five game walloping by the upstart Pistons that altered the entire course of the team.
4). Shaq is traded: If the Lakers title party effectively ended in defeat to the Spurs the season prior, their stunning five game exit against the Pistons in the 2003-2004 Finals served as the after party. Once the music finally stopped playing, the team was left with a messy hangover to deal with, starting with a giant 7’1” headache known as Shaquille O’Neal. With one fell swoop, L.A. shipped their All-NBA center to the Miami Heat as they handed the keys to the franchise over to Kobe.
5). Phil Jackson leaves the Lakers: Coach Jackson’s departure from the team was hard enough to deal with, but reading through every last detail of The Last Season was like driving by a bad car crash; as much as you don’t want to look at the wreck, you can’t help but sneak a peak. In this case, it was even worse since fans knew the players involved.
6). Game 6 of the Lakers’ 2006 First Round loss to Phoenix: Just when it seemed like all hope was lost in L.A., Kobe delivered one of the most legendary shots of his career, connecting on a game-winning jumper in OT to give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead over the pesky Steve Nash-led Suns. Even after a Game 5 loss on the road, the Lakers were mere seconds away from setting up a potential Hallway Series against the Clippers before Tim Thomas drilled a three-point dagger that hushed the raucous STAPLES Center crowd and propelled Phoenix to an eventual seven game series win.
7). Summer of 2007: After early exits from the playoffs in two straight seasons, Kobe opened his mouth and told the world that he had had enough. Enough of sub par rosters that included the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown as staples. Enough of waiting for Andrew Bynum to develop, while players like Jason Kidd were readily available. When the best player in the NBA, then in his prime, says he’s finished with losing unless something changes, you listen. That’s exactly what the Lakers did, sifting through numerous trade proposals for their longtime superstar, meanwhile impending doom settled upon Laker Land. We’ll never know how close Mitch Kuchak and the team’s brain trust actually came to trading Bryant, but the prospect was terrifying at the time.
8). Bynum injures knee in January 2008: Irony is a funny thing in sports. After a summer of turmoil in which Bryant called for Bynum’s swift exodus, the budding young center played stellar basketball the first half of the season and suddenly represented Kobe’s greatest hope for another championship. Unfortunately, his devastating season-ending knee injury against the Grizzlies on January 13, 2008 temporarily (see: Pau Gasol) quelled those aspirations, along with fans’ newly raised expectations.
9). Boston comes back from 24 down in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals: Despite losing two of the first three games of the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers still felt confident knowing the next two games would be played on their home floor. Through two and a half quarters, the team’s play echoed that mindset as they built a seemingly insurmountable 24-point lead and seemed poised to tie the series at two games apiece. The never-say-die Celtics refused to roll over though and mounted a furious (and historic) comeback to win the game and eventually the series. I’d venture to say that it took this year’s rematch against Boston for most fans to finally rid themselves of the shock-and-awe assault from that game.
10). The Celtics blowout the Lakers to win the 2008 Championship: Any sliver of hope that the Lakers would stage an epic comeback in Games 6 and 7 was tarnished halfway through Game 6 en route to a 131-92 manhandling by the C’s. The blowout exposed the Lakers’ soft interior defense and inexperience outside of Kobe and Fisher. Sure, the Lakers would retool a bit that offseason, but would they recover? It was a question that stayed with the team for the duration of the 2008-2009 season.