...originally appears on TSCblogs.com.
We believe in you! We got your back! You’ve come this far, let’s do this!
We were hoarse. We were sweaty. Emotionally spent, we had headaches of heroin-withdrawal intensity.
Our legs were shaking like The Big One had finally hit LA, which makes sense, since we handle earthquakes much better than Game 7 losses. My neighbors were turning their hats backwards, rolling up sleeves, doing everything possible to reverse the bad juju that had cursed the Staples Center up until that point.
We were down. But we kept on cheering.
The fans in Staples Center last Thursday night may have been removed from the action on the court, but we were completely and utterly involved. For the first half, we had rolled with the punches and kept it close. At halftime, as the cameras went to commercial, we watched our despondent but determined Purple and Gold take the floor slowly, one by one, to warm up for the second half.
The music was off, and the media was hitting the restrooms and refreshments. The now-you-see-them celebrities were getting their free popcorn in the tunnel club. It was just the fans and their ball players. And, armed only with our words of inspiration and what was left of our lungs, I was joined by 17,000 of my closest kin in shouting encouragement to the Lakers – our Los Angeles Lakers – to turn it all around.
Pau, be strong! You’re better than these guys! Derek, keep shooting baby!
And at that point, it wasn’t looking good.
The deficit was six, which was remarkable considering how poorly we played. Pau Gasol couldn’t hit a shot, Kobe Bryant was missing free throws, and it seemed as if everyone had been given charlie-horses pregame. The energy and passion were evident in their play, but it was spraying everywhere, lacking focus and direction.
We were using sprinklers in a war of Super-Soakers.
The Boston Celtics had come out proud and resolute. They pounded the ball in early to Rasheed Wallace, giving him confidence and catching Gasol off-guard. They leaned on their All-Stars, getting contributions inside with lay-ups by Rajon Rondo, and outside with the deadly mid-range game of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They forced the ball out of the hands of the Laker playmakers, tripling Kobe late in the shot clock, and forcing the often-unreliable outside game of the Laker bench to beat them.
In the biggest game I had ever witnessed, the Celtics kept the Lakers on their heels in every aspect of play. It was a hideously clever game plan, and it was working brilliantly.
* * *
Now, I had never seen the Staples Center quite like this. It could have been a crowd full of stuffed shirts and push-up bras, boasting that they went to a Finals Game 7 because that was the go-to event that Thursday. No. Every fan was animated, vocal, and invested, true die-hards who were too stubborn to give up hope.
These fans gave the refs the business. They booed Boston with fervor in introductions and throughout. They cheered at the appropriate rallying points, near the end of the quarters and after key defensive stops. Instead of cursing our players for missed layups and free throws, they urged them to get down the court and make up for it.
Everyone was wearing Lakers, inside and out. And in a game where every possession could mean the difference between Champion and Chump, that Staples Center crowd was determined to make all the difference it could.
Chants started in the rafters, and carried down the aisles. Each trip up the floor was either a thunderous DEE-Fense! or a LET’S go LA-kers!, starting even before the organ chimed in. Late calls were vehemently brought to attention, and successful plays were instantly lauded. It was beautiful, passionate, and inspired. And it was absolutely necessary.
You could see the looks on the Laker faces; they never had a home court advantage this effective. It may have taken them a moment to get used to it.
* * *
The halftime lead of six easily doubled. Four straight misses on the Lakers’ end translated into seven quick points for Boston. And as Phil Jackson called an uncharacteristic quick-trigger time-out, I began to ready myself for the possibility of defeat. And I found the thought process was completely unwelcome.
But slowly, tediously, the Lake Show started putting plays together.
It started with a welcome runner from Derek Fisher, who had nearly splitzed himself out of the game. That was followed by a couple shots from Lamar Odom, making a brief appearance of potency on the offensive end. And after a Kobe chip shot and a couple Gasol free throws, it was suddenly a five-point game again.
The Lakers had withstood the knockout punch. The run put 15 points on the board in six minutes, forcing Boston into a momentum-ceasing time out. The Lakers were amped. We were amped. And as Odom and Andrew Bynum waved their arms at the crowd, we screamed right the hell back at them.
And we screamed with the passion of every fan who couldn’t be there beside us.
Now, I’m not going to say that the Staples Center crowd gets the credit for the Laker victory on Thursday night. I’m not going to take anything away from a squad that came through with a victory in the biggest game of their lives. It would diminish the accomplishments of the season, and the determination of the team all through the playoffs.
But I have to think we helped a little.
Six years ago, Rasheed Wallace grew infamous for his “both teams played hard” boilerplate answer to press questions. In that Game 7, I honestly have not seen two teams play harder. Both the Lakers and the Celtics were so spent that even the bench players – players that didn’t play a single minute in the game – were covered and dripping in sweat.
It was the most important game I had ever witnessed. It was the most impassioned game, the most haphazard, the most emotionally draining. It was close to the bitter end, with every shot a statement, every possession absolutely pivotal.
And the Celtics, our bitter arch-rivals, have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. They put up a ridiculous fight, and pushed the Lakers to the very brink of elimination before running out of gas.
You did it! You deserve this! Yea, Kobe! Yea Pau! Yea Fish! Yea Lakers! Champions baby! Champions!
Both teams were champions. Yes, Rasheed, both teams played very, very hard. But after the final buzzer sounded, it was the Lakers who remained. And as for their hoarse, emotionally drained fan base? We decided to stay, and cheer just a little bit longer.