John Ondrasik Looks Back on Finals
The Five For Fighting singer is always up for a good basketball chat.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting is an interesting dichotomy. A writer of such heartfelt songs as Superman, 100 Years and Slice, Ondrasik is also a life-long sports fan, a testosterone filled world. After all, the name of his band is a hockey reference. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, he frequents Lakers games and is more than willing to sit down and chat hoops.
During a trip to Minneapolis late in the summer, Ondrasik sat down with SLAM to reminisce on the Lakers second title in a row.
SLAM: You’re a diehard Lakers fan, right?
John Ondrasik: I’ve been going to Laker games my whole life. I have scattered memories of watching Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and grew up through the Showtime era going to games with my Dad as a teenager. I had the pleasure of watching Kareem, Magic and Worthy on Wednesday then Gretzky and Curry on Friday. I enjoyed the early Shaq/Kobe era, suffered through the years before the Gasol gift and was at Game 7 against the Celtics this year, which was the greatest day of my life.
SLAM: That was the greatest day of your life, but was that the greatest moment in Laker history?
JO: I don’t know if it’s the Lakers history, but it’s certainly the greatest moment since they moved from the Forum in my book. If we would have lost that game, it would’ve been generational to recover and the fact that we won was generational to enjoy. Being down 14 or 15 points to the Celtics, you come back from that maybe one out of twenty games. It was to the point, even at the end of that game, when the Lakers are up by two and Jackson puts Sasha in and I’m like, ‘This is going to be the biggest nightmare of my life.’ I saw it in my mind that they were going to foul Sasha, he was going to clank two, Ray Allen is going to hit a three at the buzzer and we’re going to lose.
I literally walked from my seat I couldn’t even watch Sasha shoot, so I walked out of my seat to the tunnel and was hiding there. I remember one of the ushers was saying to me, ‘It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be ok.’ I heard the place explode when he hit the first one, so I started creeping back. When he hit the second one, Sasha is now immortalized in history.
It was incredible. I never thought I would hear people screaming to take Kobe Bryant out of the game, but Kobe completely lost it. I mean, I hate to say it, but the Black Mamba really couldn’t handle the pressure of that one game. Lucky for him, Ron Artest and Pau Gasol and those guys picked him up and it’s appropriate because he’s carried them for so long. For me as a Lakers fan—and I’ve seen a lot of great moments, like the Miracle on Manchester with the Kings and all the Laker championships—to me, it was the highlight of my adult life with the exception of my kids…but it’s close.
SLAM: On that one night, why do you think Kobe Bryant didn’t have it?
JO: I think the pressure got to him. Through the whole playoffs, Kobe was like, ‘I don’t care who we play’ and tried to keep that stiff upper lip, but Kobe—love him or hate him—he understands the history of basketball. He understands the meaning of that game and he understands his legacy. He’s always wanted to be ‘The Man’ without Shaq, but they lost to the Celtics two years ago. The win a championship, but it’s not against the Celtics and if he would’ve lost Game 7 at home, I think there are a lot of people who would say that he is not the elite closer we all think he is.
It’s one thing to hit a shot during the regular season over the Clippers, but this is the Celtics. They had beaten the Lakers two years ago, they played an amazing series—I give Doc Rivers all the credit—and I think the pressure got to Kobe. I’m sure it was a humbling experience for him, but as a Laker fan, it was neat to see the team defense win the championship. It was defense that won and it’s defense that usually wins. It’ll be fantastic to see this year, especially if the Heat get through the East, if that defense can control the three amigos.
SLAM: Do you think the Heat were put together to take down the Lakers this year?
JO: Well, no. I think Pat Riley wants to win a championship. Especially now, to win a championship, you’re going to have to go through the Lakers in the Finals. The West has gotten weaker, obviously, with Boozer leaving. Over time, if Russell Westbrook can develop a 15-foot jumpshot, Oklahoma City will challenge the Lakers, but I don’t think it’s this year.
I think the Lakers get through the West and I’m not assuming Miami is coming out of the East. I mean, LeBron has never played well in a big game before this year and whether it’s going to be a strong Chicago team, a very good Orlando team, the Celtics have everybody back—and I think Shaq will actually help them—I’m not sure that Miami is going to get there. If they do, it will certainly be entertaining. It’s amazing. I never thought in my life there would be a time that there are Celtic fans cheering for the Lakers to beat a team or Laker fans cheering for the Celtics to beat a team, but Miami has given us the great gift of something we all can hate, even though I love Dwayne Wade. It’ll be exciting to watch this year and we’re all looking forward to Christmas Day when the Lakers play the Heat.
SLAM: You single out Derek Fisher on many occasions. Why do you have such an admiration for him?
JO: I tend to be one who likes to ridicule the celebrity culture because it’s easily ridiculed and so much of celebrity in both sports and music is so narcissistic and shallow that it’s just annoying. I like to shine a light on the good guys and Fisher is a great guy. He’s all the things I’d want my son to be if he was an athlete because he’s hard working, he’s overachieving, he’s humble, he does a lot of great work, he’s a team player and when it’s all on the line, he’ll come through.
He had a bad year last year. I mean, people don’t talk about that now, but towards the end of the year people were like, ‘You gotta yank Fisher. You gotta put Farmar in there.’ He had a pretty bad year, but we saw again in the playoffs that when you need Derek Fisher, he will make a play to win you games in the Finals. He did it again and the Lakers do not win that series without Derek Fisher.
He is such a great guy. Everybody knows about his daughter and all that stuff, but he’s also a smart guy and I have a feeling that one day he’ll be running for office. If he does, I’ll vote for him.