Monday, June 15, 2009
My son and two sons in law are all pretty serious sports fans. I generally tap in to their expertise when we hang out. They get me current. None of them consider me much of a source when it comes to analysis or calling up a piece of trivia or reviewing the latest game. It may be aging; you know, the onset of memory loss. Then again, in the case of sports stats, it probably has more to do with database overload. At this stage of my life, the hard drive is pretty well jammed. The only way to have access to those little bits of illusive information is to carry some sort of device with Google access twenty-four-seven, which I do. Google arrived on the tech scene just in time.
So I can’t say that I watched the Lakers until the post-season; when they were well on their way to the NBA national championship. If they had been knocked out early in the season, I don’t know that I would have watched a single game. I guess that makes me a fair weather fan. But the morning after victory, I must say, these guys are good.
I remember writing about Kobe and Shaq in June of 2001. It’s the story of coach Jackson taming his two young stars, who came very close to victory the year before. But ego got in the way. Here’s how I described them back then – “The Glory Days in the Windy City [Chicago Bulls] followed [Jackson] to Tinseltown. The Blue and Gold [Lakers] enjoyed the deftness of a young twenty-two (now twenty-three) year old star player many people believed was the heir to the Michael Jordan throne. Then, under the boards, his team-mate: that giant of a man, seven feet one inch tall and three hundred fifteen pounds of Philistine warrior; a modern day Goliath with the smiling eyes of a teddy bear.”
Kobe was young and brash. He openly disdained his team-mate calling him lazy. Their personal aversion to one another cost Los Angeles the Big Win. But with Coach’s (Jackson, the son of fire-brand Mom and Pop Pentecostal preachers) tutelage, they overcame their mutual distrust back in 2000 and emerged as champions in 2001.
Last year, after a similar scrubbing by the Boston Celtics (the game six blow-out 131 to 92) in 2008, a new kind of determination emerged this year. Kobe is no longer the impetuous youngster long on attitude short on experience. He’s become a leader. There have been major disappointments. Professionally, none would be as severe as the humiliating loss to Boston (picture him walking off the floor, dejected, as green confetti floated down from the ceiling like a ticker tape snow storm). Personally, Kobe has suffered high profile embarrassment as a husband and father. But last night, the ones he wanted to hold first in celebration were Vanessa and the two girls. (I understand that he had a very public recommitment ceremony a couple of years back. From all appearances last night, the man’s in love.)
I understand from my son-in-law from the southeast that outside of the Los Angeles area, there is little affection for Jackson, Kobe or any of the Lakers for that matter. (As a loyal Floridian, he’s been cheering for the Orlando Magic.) But something happened this year. Yes, it’s true. No one has a game face like Kobe. Call it attitude. But it takes more than a game face to win a championship. It’s what happens on the floor.
Back when Shaq and Kobe learned from their legendary coach that basketball is a team sport, the seed was planted. Kobe would take it to the next level. And here we are. This is his fourth national championship. Jackson’s tenth. As predicted, people are growing more comfortable with the comparisons of Kobe to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
It was a thing of beauty and thus a joy forever. Kobe is not only a phenom on the floor, with his impossible moves, deadly shots, lingering hang-time, and the spring in that jump, he’s become a leader. One on one, he’ll beat you. Cover him tight, he’ll find a way around and charge the net. Hang back for an instant and the ball will be gone – on its way arching toward the goal.
But he’s anything but a solo player these days. He’s in rhythm with his team. Jackson has included him as a player coach. He finds the open man. He delivers the timely word, personally. He high-fives the successes, fist pumps the effective move. He chides the errant, just because they both know it needs improvement. He’s as aggressive and fearless as he expects everyone else to be.
The giant seven foot Spaniard, Pau Gosol, lived up to, probably surpassed his billing. (I loved the puff piece highlighting his friendship with Plácido Domingo.) Derek Fisher emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Lamar Odom. All of them, played with the intensity and harmony and joy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic where Domingo conducts.
This year, the Laker’s conductor was Kobe Bryant.
There were some clear lessons in leadership in this series.
And it’s all in the history books.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009