“Old pirates, yes, they rob I; Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong by the hand of the almighty.
We forward in this generation. Triumphantly!” Bob Marley
After the fanfare died down and the media packed up, following the Dallas Mavericks victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers last night, an air of redemption swept over the American Airlines arena.
The words of Bob Marley never rang truer than they did last night. As the empty arena grew quieter, I would like to think Peja Stojakovic found himself reflecting instead of celebrating. He could have pondered a lot of things.
How he had barely gotten off the bench in his first season in the league as he struggled to adapt to its pace and physicality.
How he rose to prominence alongside teammates Jason Williams, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber in the 1999-2000 season as the Kings went through a revival.
How the pain of his first playoff exit as a starter at the hands of Phil and Kobe hurt.
How he had captivated the NBA with his lethal shooting in his third season as he cemented himself as one of the league’s most improved players.
How his Sacramento team led by the exciting coaching of Rick Adelman had been anointed “The Greatest show on court”
How his first playoff success against the Phoenix Suns was quickly forgotten as he tasted defeat to the Lakers once again in 2001.
How he had been honoured by the selection to his first NBA All-star team the following season.
How a league-best win-loss record of 61-21 was rendered immaterial by Shaq and Kobe’s eventual three-peating Lakers as the Kings suffered a painful seven game loss in the Western Conference Finals.
How he was haunted by crucial misses in that series as he shot an abysmal percentage.
How his team were robbed of a potential game five victory by the non-calls and bad calls of the refereeing crew that night.
How he again saw his team capture the pacific division title the following season only to lose to the Mavericks in the playoffs as C-Webb was hobbled by a knee-injury.
How the following year ended the same way with yet another defeat in the post-season to the Garnett-led Timberwolves.
How the core of that team was blown up in the 04-05 season leaving him the star of a franchise that looked to be heading down to the lottery and not up to the Finals.
How disappointing the season after that proved to be, as the team’s lack of chemistry and general poor play eventually led to a trade to the Pacers.
How the five years that followed were like a blur.
How he decided to sign as a free-agent with Dallas in January after the Los Angeles Lakers opted not to offer him a deal.
How he got to where he stood now.
After dispatching the Lakers in a four-game sweep Stojakovic could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The years of heartache and regret that had haunted and followed him from Sacramento to Indiana to New Orleans to Toronto and to Dallas seemed to have been swept away.
Through these playoffs the “Serbian bomber” has silently gone about reminding us why he once struck fear into the hearts of opponents around the league.
The man’s ability to shoot has never been in doubt. Records and awards have seen to that. But one question always lingered: could he do it on the big stage?
The “Yes” we expected arrived late. Nine years late to be exact but it could not have come at a better time.
Looking for yet another three-peat Phil and Kobe rolled into the series in ominous fashion. After an unconvincing victory over the Hornets in round one many sensed it would only be a matter of time before the Lake-show went into overdrive.
“What better opponent than the historical choke artist that is the Dallas Mavericks”, we collectively said.
How wrong we were!
In a series that saw Dirk Nowitzki solidify himself as one of the all-time greatest closers, the Mavs went about systematically highlighting and exposing every Lakers weakness.
The Mavericks took victory in game one, game two, game three and finally last night in game four.
Through all this one man savoured every moment. Devouring each and every opportunity he was given. Doing everything necessary, all while laughing in the face of those who had scripted him a destiny of playoff despair at the hands of Phil and Kobe.
Peja cackled away inside as he lit up his former foes and watched their hopes of another three-peat sizzle away.
Unable to challenge his shots or confidence, Kobe and Phil were left dejected as they accepted their ‘swept’ fates.
With every swished bucket and passing roar of the crowd, Peja went about reliving the glory that should have been his in Sacramento. He recaptured and took ownership of his legacy while showcasing a performance that further highlighted the redemptive nature of this game.
Oh how redemption tastes so sweet on the tongue. Oh how freedom tastes so sweet on the tongue.
Now onto the Western Conference Finals where yet another hurdle lies in wait.
But for at least one night let us appreciate the redemptive beauty that saw Peja Stojakovic wrestle with his demons and come out on top.
"We forward in this generation. Triumphantly!
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”