The Los Angeles Lakers: Whose Team Are They?

David BurnettCorrespondent IJune 17, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during the post game news conference after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 to win the NBA Championship in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers have just won their 15th NBA title.  And because of his obvious importance,  a lot of people believe the Lakers are Kobe Bryant’s team.  After all, he is their best player, and he did win the Bill Russell Most Valuable Player Award. 

But does that actually mean the Lakers are in fact Kobe’s team?

With 13 successful (and often spectacular) seasons in the NBA, Kobe just might be one of the greatest players in basketball history.  That’s a fact.  But when you really ponder the implication behind the question “Whose team is it?” the more absurd and ridiculous the concept becomes. 

Why is this important, anyway?

Much was made during the Lakers–Magic NBA Finals about how crucial it was for Kobe to win a fourth championship in order to prove he could do it without Shaquille O’Neal.

I wonder why. 

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Looking at the statistics from the Lakers' last three championships, the numbers tell us that Kobe Bryant averaged roughly 30 points per game during those three series in 2000, 2001, and 2002.   In reality, this suggests that Shaq needed Kobe every bit as much as Kobe needed Shaq.

So whose team were Laker squads that won the championship three years in a row—Shaq’s or Kobe’s team? Did it really matter?  And I know this is rhetorical, but weren’t there other players on those Laker teams?

Just asking the question "Whose team?" seems to render the other less prominent players irrelevant.

That’s why this "Whose team?" thing must stop and must stop now.

Back to this season. 

Let me make this point, and stay with me as I say this: The Lakers could not have won the title without Pau Gasol.  Take Gasol—the closest player in style and play to Boston Celtics great, Kevin McHale—out of the lineup and the Lakers simply can’t beat the Magic.

Furthermore, if you take Derek Fisher, and his crucial three-point shooting out of the Finals, the Lakers would still be playing the Magic.

Let me go on. 

Lamar Odom, the versatile 6’10" Lakers power forward who can do just about anything with the basketball when he puts his mind to it, created a tremendous matchup problem for the Magic. Orlando simply had no answer for him. They would have certainly lost the series without Lamar Odom’s contributions.

The same can be said for Lakers small forward, Trevor Ariza—the Magic couldn’t handle him either. Ariza just kept hitting important shot after important shot during the series and played great defense.

Again I ask: Is Kobe Bryant the Lakers best player?  Yes he is.   But could he have won the title this year on his own?  The clear answer is: No, he could not.

So let me ponder once more: Are the Lakers Kobe’s team?

Well, actually they are.  But they are Derek Fisher’s team too!  The Lakers also belong to Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Trevor Ariza.  Take away any one of those players and the guys on the bench and rusty starting center Andrew Bynum, and the Orlando Magic are in position to win an NBA championship.

Frankly, this "Whose team?" stuff is old and tired.   I’m beyond sick of hearing about it.

But this concept is not just one that harms the values of team play in basketball.  Every team sport has some version of this issue.  And the more I read about it, the more I listen to the debates, the more stupid I find it all.

Team sports are won by teams, not individuals. Certainly great individual performances matter, and we marvel at them, but take away any of the component parts—the teammates—that surround that great player and all you have is a great player; you don’t have a champion.  

I especially hope the folks in Cleveland understand this.

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