by Lang Whitaker

Once again, welcome. For the third year in a row, my number has come up. As I write this, there are less than 5 hours until I pack up my stuff, pull the tarp over my desk and leave this office behind for the next few weeks. I do not leave on a vacation, but on a mission. My job, which I have no choice when it comes to accepting, is to cover the NBA Finals. And like it or not, you’re coming along for the ride with me.

Two years ago in Miami, I nearly lost my mind, which is excerpted here. And last year I found myself yelling at a newspaper. I’m telling you, the Finals are bad for your brain, like drugs or alcohol or health food. It’s like being sequestered on a jury, where you’re only allowed to think about one particular case. The difference is that on a jury, you’re cut off from the outside world. At the Finals, you turn on the TV or pick up a paper and just read more about the Finals. It’s an avalanche of Finals.

At the same time, I’m excited for these Finals. How will they work out? No idea, other than I’m pretty sure the Lakers are going to win. The Celtics were an awesome regular season team, I understand, but I haven’t seen much growth in their play — they came out of the gate hot and just maintained all season. The Lakers, though, have improved and gotten better as time has gone on, adding that crucial Gasol cog, and now they seem to be peaking at just the right time. The only problem is that, to me, the Lakers don’t seem to be totally together, meaning I could totally see them coming out flat for a few of these games. But at the same time, I expect the Celtics to come out flat for a few of these games. The Celts are the underdogs, and if I’m Doc Rivers I’m banging that drum over and over to try and get my guys fired up.

I’ve been on a lot of radio shows lately, talking about the Finals. And I got one particular question on three different shows yesterday, which never happens. To paraphrase, three different hosts asked how Kobe got to where he is. Meaning, one year ago he was in the process of starting what seemed to be a self-destructive swirl. He wanted to be traded, he didn’t want to be traded, he didn’t like Mitch Kupchak, he didn’t like Andrew Bynum, whatever. And now he’s the MVP and everyone’s talking about what a competitor he is and not really focusing on the odd way he went from NBA outcast to team leader. Has Kobe actually changed? Or have we changed?

My answer was that Kobe hasn’t changed so much as the perception of Kobe has shifted. Nine months ago, everyone who watched the NBA knew Kobe was insanely talented, but we also knew that Kobe’s off court behavior was erratic at best, and that affected the way we consumed Kobe. We weren’t able to see him strictly as a great basketball player. It was impossible, because we were corrupted.

But the last nine month’s he’s basically shut his mouth and played ball, and played very, very well at that. And with silence finally surrounding him, we were able to hear him as a player. There are still a lot of people out there who love him and still a lot of people out there who hate him, but more than ever before, I think there are many people out there who respect his ability to play basketball. To me, that’s been the biggest change around Kobe this season. The Lakers might win a title and Kobe might get a Finals MVP, and who knows what happens next year. (Kobe begins lobbying for Jerry Buss to sell the team?) But for now, this is Kobe’s NBA, we’re just living in it.

So, I gots to pack. Time to hit the road and see how these Finals play out. Will the Celts be able to stop the Lake Show? Will Kobe prove to the world that he’s unstoppable? Will Khalid get stranded in Cincinnati on a flight layover? There are so many questions just waiting to be answered.

Oh, and in closing, l was going through old posts from last year’s Finals coverage and I came across this video, which is still amazing. “I don’t know what my mom said…you better ask my mom if you want the answer to that question.”