To steal from the immortal Chick Hearn, “This season’s in the refrigerator. The lights are out, the eggs are coolin’, the jello’s jigglin’ and the butters getting hard. For the 15th time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions!”
With a 99-86 victory Sunday night, the Lakers road back to the top ended by dispatching the Orlando Magic in five games to become the 2009 NBA Champions. Kobe Bryant was named Finals MVP after averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game in the Finals on his way to winning the fourth championship of his career.
For Bryant and the Lakers it was a long road back to the top of the NBA mountain. A seven year journey to be exact. The travel included Bryant dealing with rape allegations, a Finals loss to the underdog Detroit Pistons in 2004 that was followed by the trading of Shaquille O’Neal to Miami and Phil Jackson stepping down as head coach, thus ending a dynasty.
The low point was 2005 when the Lakers missed the playoffs. Although Jackson returned as coach after a one year sabbatical, 2006 and 2007 both ended in first round playoff defeats to the Phoenix Suns which resulted in Bryant publicly requesting a trade from the team.
Last year things began to turn around for the Lakers as they made a return trip to the NBA Finals before being eliminated with an exclamation point at the hands of the Boston Celtics by 39 points in Game Six. But it was that painful lesson that gave the Lakers the motivation and focus to return to the Finals but get different results.
That result was the Lakers winning the fifteenth championship in their storied history. Phil Jackson moved into a class by himself winning his tenth title as a coach passing Red Auerbach. For Kobe Bryant, he put to rest the biggest criticism of his career. No longer will he have to hear that he couldn’t win a title without O’Neal.
Credit must also be given to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak for having the patience to stick with his plan despite the pressure from both Kobe Bryant and Laker fans alike.
The team would not have reached this moment without the draft picks and trades that he was able to make. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar all made contributions during the season. All were draft picks made by Kupchak.
Two major pieces to this years championship puzzle were made via trade under Kupchak when he outright “gun and ski masked” Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza from Memphis and Orlando respectively.
The talent that he received in exchange for what he gave up for those players was downright criminal. Do any Laker fans even miss Brian Cook, Maurice Evans and Kwame Brown?
Laker fans will rejoice in the glory of another title and many will head to downtown Los Angeles Wednesday to see the parade featuring their championship heroes. The legions of purple and gold followers will have lots to celebrate over the next few days.
Enjoy it while you can because if the last seven years have taught us anything, it’s that these championships fade into the rear view mirror just as fast as they appear on the horizon. This Laker fan will milk the next couple of days for all they’re worth.