It was ring night for the Lakers, a night when the team raised their 15th NBA Championship banner above the floor at Staples Center.
The 20-minute ceremony officially put last season’s incredible performance to rest and marked the beginning of a new journey with the same goal in mind. Usually, it can be difficult for a team to put this type of ceremony behind them and actually focus on the start of that new journey—their home opener.
In both 2000 and 2002—after winning the previous seasons’ championships—the Lakers lost both home openers.
"The energy is difficult to muster (after such a ceremony),” said Phil Jackson. “A lot of it dissipates. You're reliving last year and not ready to step it up, but we did all right."
But muster the energy they did and went on to defeat the Staples Center neighbors, the Clippers, 99-92.
The journey won’t be so new for most of the starters. Despite the emotional pregame ceremony, they played as though they were in midseason form. Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom—starting in place of Pau Gasol—were all in double figures. Both Bynum and Odom picked up double-doubles.
But this will be a completely new journey for one starter, who sat in the Lakers’ locker room watching the pregame ring ceremony on TV.
"I was happy for them," Ron Artest, the newest Laker, remarked, "A lot of them got their first rings. Lamar got his first and now we've got to get him No. 2, and my first."
Artest, who is the Lakers’ answer to Dennis Rodman, delighted the Staples Center crowd with his new haircut. It was Artest’s quirky way of compensating for not having a ring of his own.
He had the word “Champion” inscribed in Chinese characters on the left side of his head. On the right was the name of a New York playground star who was shot to death a few days ago. Prominent on the back of Artest’s head was the Lakers’ logo, much like the one inscribed on their championship rings.
What will he do next? Well, Artest is thinking about dying his hair gold for Friday's game with Dallas.
But once the game began, Artest was all business, fronting up against the Clippers’ Al Thornton.
Jackson praised Artest for his outstanding defensive work against Thornton. "He played shut-down defense very well against their scoring forward, Thornton," Jackson said. "I thought he looked like he was in the offensive mix most of the time.”
Offensively, Artest was three for 10 with one three-pointer and a dismal three for seven from the line for 10 points. But he did have four assists and a steal.
In case you’re keeping track, the player that Artest replaced, Trevor Ariza, had 12 points with an assist and a steal on opening night against Portland. However, tonight Ariza already has 18 points at halftime against Golden State, leading all scorers.
Now that the journey has begun, let’s hope there are no roadblocks along the way.