Gallery: Lakers Kicksology
The Lakeshow limps into the sunset.
by Chris O’Leary / @olearychris
Forget the spotty regular season and the complete collapse in the playoffs. The telltale sign that the Lakers’ mini-dynasty was coming to an end was right in front of us all year.
The haters stopped hating.
I can say that from personal experience. From the time of the Kobe-Shaq drama to the end of the 2009 season, Kobe Bryant was persona non grata in my basketball world.
I knew how good the Lakers would be with Pau Gasol and I knew that they were too good not to win at least a couple of titles. While the ’08 Finals loss was glorious, the ’09 title win tipped the scales in the opposite direction. The Game 7 win over the Celtics last year hurt, but only because I loved that Celtics team and its endless supply of heart.
Something changed over the last two seasons for me with the Lakers and it was capped off on Sunday when Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks swept them out. I didn’t feel joy in watching them lose. Listening to Mike Tirico lose his shit over Andrew Bynum’s flagrant 2 foul on JJ Barea only made me shake my head. This was what I thought I’d wanted to see. The Lakers, via the supposedly soulless Kobe, were living up to the villainous persona I’d built up of them in my mind over the last four-plus years. And there I was, watching Jason Terry and the Mavs shoot 8 million percent from three and thinking that the Lakers deserved better than this. They’d been too good to be swept out in the second round by a team that’s known for nothing more than 50-plus wins a season and an inevitable choke job in the Playoffs.
As Lang has written more than once on this site in the last few years, Kobe at the very least has people’s respect on the court. He plays the game the way the greats before him played it. He cares about it the same way they did and wanted this sixth title because he thinks about his legacy more than any of us do. In a basketball landscape that’s seen the game’s biggest names unite because it’s the best way to win championships, Kobe has become the face of the old school. He’s the warrior that wants to slay the biggest dragon. He’s the soldier that wants to battle to the top of the mountain, not buy a house halfway up the hill and take the gondola up the other half of the way.
After Kobe’s emotional performance in the first round against the Hornets, I thought the Lakers had finally found the gas pedal and were ready to roll through to the Western Conference Finals. I said in that piece that you’d have to pry the torch from Kobe’s perpetually busted up hands. As has been the case all year for the Lakers, they went Helter Skelter one last time before losing out. A forceful pry wouldn’t be necessary in this series. The torch slipped out of Kobe’s hands, wobbled on the field like a fumbled football and the Lakers stood in stunned silence as the Mavericks dog piled their way onto it, where they could present it to Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the West Finals.
A week after the ’09 Finals win, Kobe’s smirking mug stared up at me from the cover of SI. After attempting to write a massive epithet on how it made me feel, I realized I couldn’t finish it because Kobe had gotten the last word on me. Today, with the Mavs awaiting the winner of the OKC-Memphis series and with Kobe getting some long overdue post-season rest, this seems like a strange way to have this hate/like/respect saga unfold. All things considered, the haters could have the last word. This reformed hater just doesn’t want it anymore.