For the Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, and Magic, the NBA regular season was a dry, tedious wait. Like staggering through a sand-blown desert, the only thing worth looking forward to was the oasis that is the NBA Finals, eight months later.
Nothing until that point mattered.
That journey began on October 27th, 2009 for the Lakers and Celtics. And they are the last two standing.
Do you realize it's been seven weeks since Chris Bosh and Chris Paul have played a game? Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Derek Rose, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, and Steve Nash have all fallen by the wayside.
In the end, none of them mattered. Not this much. This is the most meaningful postseason matchup, and not just because of 50 years of history. The Lakers versus the Celtics is best rivalry currently in the NBA. This is the first time in 23 years that the previous two champs have met in the Finals.
The timing couldn't be any better.
As Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles explains, "Make no mistake about it; this series will shape how history views both of these teams. If the Lakers win, they will prove they were not only the best the last two years but further support their belief they would have won in 2008 if they were fully healthy.
If the Celtics win, they will put to rest the notion the Lakers would have beaten them with Andrew Bynum two years ago and make a case they were the best team last year and would have won the championship if Garnett had not gone down."
This championship is worth three championships. Three championships is a mini-dynasty.
If the Celtics win, they're not only the most dominant team to wrap up this decade, they're also better than Kobe's vaunted New Look Lakers. They're the guys that Kobe could not get past.
If the Lakers win, they are the undisputed team of the decade. Five championships from 2000-2010. Seven Finals appearances. And Kobe propels himself legitimately into the Top Five conversation. Yes, Top Five greatest players, ever.
It's June 2010, and the veterans on both sides are draining knees (Bynum), icing backs (Rondo), taping fingers (Kobe), and treating head trauma (Big Baby). The players are doing everything short of slapping on bondo with new body parts, like Mr. Potato head, to stay in the game. Anything to hold their bodies together for two more weeks. It just means that much.
It means Lakers fans have a chance to wash that terrible taste out of their mouths that's lingered since 2008. A bitter stench that wasn't fully cleansed by a championship over the Magic. Only the combination of a trophy at the expense of the Celtics would create that antidote.
And it means the Celtics have the chance to put another foot on the hearts of Lakers fans, squeezing out the last drops of blood by allowing us a second chance at redemption, only to humiliate us again.
The championships from 2000-2009 over the Pacers, Sixers, Nets, and Magic were lacking juice. In fact, it's easy to forget who the Lakers even played in those series. But this time, it means so much. This NBA Finals matchup has been two years in the making. The ingredients have had two seasons to simmer, and now the intrigue is fully cooked.
For the Lakers' decade. For the Celtics' place in history. For Kobe's legacy.
It all comes down to this.