No, I'm not an Orlando hater. But the Magic and the Lakers have a special meaning to all basketball fans, no matter what team you cheer for, or what era you're from.
Magic Johnson didn't just lead the Lakers to five championships with his razzle-dazzle play, he ran his showtime Lakers express train through every heart's station, Celtics fans included. They just threw trash out the window at that stop.
Note to Celtics fans of the '80s: your hate for the Lakers only intensified your love for the Celtics, and added a higher, spiritual meaning to the legendary plays of the era.
So, yeah, it bothers me to hear the Lakers are taking on the Magic.
Ervin "Magic" Johnson represented everything that is good about sports, competition, showmanship, and basketball. He could be beat, but not for long. At once, a man with a magical smile; in battle, an evil wizard who'd leave a magical foot print on Harry Potter's head.
Fast forward the '90s, and here we are with a new wizard in Laker-town, this one not so loved.
Kobe Bryant's got crazy game, but he lacks the same touch on his magic that Ervin had. He plays with bad intentions, but in a bad way. He's not so much a team leader, like Ervin was, but a team master.
While occasionally inspiring teammates to the great level at which he thrives, when he's down, he drags them to the pits of hell with him.
There's no denying Bryant's greatness, but it's hard to deny his evilness, too.
Think ball-hogging in the 2004 Finals against the Pistons on a team with four future Hall of Famers, while Shaq was shooting 60 percent from the field.
Three shot attempts in the second half of a Game Seven loss to the Suns?
Screaming at teammates in the 2008 Finals against the Celtics, after an NBA season where many saw him as having finally matured into a team leader: this is not the magic that Ervin wielded.
This is why I hesitate to give the Lakers the championship nod pre-series opener. Others might favor the Magic or the Lakers because of mismatches. Lakers fans swear they have the edge. Almost everyone else gives the nod to the Magic.
And you have the Kobe X-factor.
When Kobe Bryant is on his game, there's no one in the league that can stop him, not just from scoring, but from winning. None of the match-ups matter. The only thing that matters in this series, is how Kobe conducts himself.
If he's professional, the Lakers win. If he's a selfish, self-righteous, vindictive, baby, the Magic win.
His track-record in pressure situations is mixed. He's been an unstoppable winner (note: mostly with Shaq behind him), and an intolerable, whining, loser.
Which path will he choose? Which Kobe will we see?
How so many characters embody one human is beyond me, but we are all witness. Lebron can wait. This is Kobe's time. He's got the magic. But is it good or evil?