Every autumn of every year is an exciting time for Lakers fans salivating for the start of a brand-new NBA season. The upcoming 2010-11 season, however, may be the most anticipated in years in the City of Angels, and possibly ever. Not only are the Los Angeles Lakers the defending NBA Champions, but this season holds the potential for Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers to reach several major milestones, all by winning the title next summer.
If the Lakers are holding up the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy in June 2011, Bryant will have won his sixth NBA Championship, eclipsing the five championship titles that Magic Johnson won for the Lakers and matching the number won by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, both of whom were his childhood idols.
By leveling up with Jordan in the number of titles won, Bryant will not only narrow the gap in the debate on who is the better player, but will put himself one step closer to his goal of winning more titles than Jordan, which for some, would effectively end the debate, and position Bryant closer to his long-standing aspiration of being the "best player ever" in the history of the game.
If the Lakers win the sixty-fifth NBA Championship next summer, the franchise will also reach a major milestone by tying the Boston Celtics for the record of having the most titles in NBA history, at seventeen apiece.
This has been a long-desired goal for faithful Lakers fans, given that one more future title won by the Lakers before the Celtics would give them sole ownership of the record, and making official the Lakers' rightful title of being the "greatest franchise in NBA history".
But perhaps the most unique milestone with a Lakers victory next June would be for Jackson. Having already broken Red Auerbach's long-standing record of most titles for a NBA head coach in 2009, which Jackson shared after guiding the Lakers' 2001-02 championship season, Jackson's twelfth championship as a coach will take the number of his championship three-peats to four.
This would be a stunning personal achievement for Jackson, having won his first two three-peats with the Bulls in 1991 to 1993 and 1996 to 1998, and his last three-peat with the Lakers, in 2000 to 2002. Having coached the Lakers to championships in 2009 and 2010, winning the title again in 2011 would complete his fourth three-peat overall, and his second with the Lakers.
Jackson is only the third head coach in NBA history to guide a team to three successive titles, after John Kundla of the Minneapolis Lakers, who coached the NBA's original "dynasty" to three successive titles in 1952 to 1954, and Auerbach, who coached the Celtics to eight consecutive championships between 1959 and 1966, still the NBA record for consecutive titles for a franchise.
But no coach in NBA history has won more than one three-peat, that is unless you count Auerbach's run of eight successive titles as including two "three-peats", and Jackson's record of four will rank up there as one of the NBA's "most unbreakable records", perhaps even higher than Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a single NBA game.
Now all three milestones are undeniably "huge" in the minds of Lakers fans, but which will rank as the most endearing in their hearts?
For long-time Lakers fans, being able to share the Celtics' seemingly unyielding hold on being the NBA's winningest franchise, with the chance to break it in the near future, must be the most important milestone. For them, it seems just like yesterday when the Lakers owned just six titles, with only one of them won as the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1971-72 season. During that time, the Celtics had already won thirteen championships.
It wasn't until the Lakers drafted Johnson to team up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win five titles in the 1980's that the franchise begin to approach the Celtics' record, who themselves had won three titles in the 80's with Larry Bird leading the team.
After the arrival of Bryant alongside NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal from the Orlando Magic, however, the Lakers began to make serious gains on the record, with the three titles from 2000 to 2002 bringing the Lakers' number of championships to fourteen compared to sixteen won by the Celtics.
In 2008, lead by their "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics were able to win their first championship since 1986, incidentally by beating the Lakers, and stretching the gap to three titles. The Lakers, however, won the NBA championship in 2009 against the Orlando Magic, and again in 2010 by exacting revenge on the Celtics, to close the gap to one.
Perhaps the only thing better than winning the title next year for these long-time Lakers fans would be winning it by beating the Celtics. Facing off against Boston would raise the stakes in the historic rivalry and game of one-upmanship not just between the two teams, but between their fanbases. And beating the Celtics would bring the additional relish of beating O'Neal, the one-time Laker great who has turned into the "Big Benedict" by joining the Lakers' most despised rival, and finally settling the score by taking care of unfinished business in the "Kobe vs. Shaq" saga.
For die-hard "Kobe fans", particularly those that never witnessed the Lakers' championship runs in the 80's, Bryant winning his sixth championship and tying the number of titles won by Jordan may be as sweet as the Lakers' all-time winningest franchise record, and perhaps sweeter.
To these younger Lakers fans, many who never witnessed Jordan in his prime, Bryant was their "Jordan", an unstoppable offensive force with unbelievable talents and superhuman prowess who seemingly had the ability to will his team to victory. When Bryant scored his 81 points against the Raptors in a regular season game in 2006, for many of these fans, this was a sign that Bryant had surpassed Jordan as the all-time greatest player.
The comparisons between Bryant and Jordan often became a sore topic for these fans, particularly in their discussions with many of their elders who believed Bryant had not yet matched the achievements of Jordan, with the arguments often centering around Jordan's six championships compared to Bryant's five. For Bryant to win his sixth championship would render that argument invalid, and would further another step in bolstering the claim that Bryant is the superior player. It would also be the necessary step for Bryant to win his seventh championship, and by doing so, in their view clearly swinging the pendulum to Bryant's side.
Perhaps the most authoritative voice on the "Kobe vs. Jordan" debate is Jackson, the man that coached both players to every one of their championships. For fans of both Bryant and Jordan, Jackson completing his fourth three-peat may be the most cherished milestone in the Lakers winning the 2011 NBA Championship. To them, Jackson was as instrumental as the players in winning the titles, and represents that common link in the careers of both men.
This possibly being Jackson's last season as head coach of the Lakers, they feel the completion of his three-peat quartet would be the most fitting way to send easily the most beloved coach in Lakers history off into the sunset.
While the Lakers winning the NBA Championship would be a cause for a city-wide celebration in any year, the milestones that will be reached by winning in 2011 will only serve to make the championship sweeter. And while Lakers fans may feel partial to one in particular, all of the milestones will contribute to the exhilaration they will feel when the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy is once again hoisted in the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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