Saturday, July 11, 2009

Part Four: The Defining Tease

But nothing solved my lack of cable that first season. It kinda sucked a lot as NBC's jingle-worthy NBA contract was long-gone from the masterful Bob Costas days of league action. All I got was the occasional ABC Sunday double-header. Stupid near monopoly by ESPN and TNT stealing my thunder. So the sneaking around ensued. I had to make up as many excuses as possible to go to Garrett's house and catch a game. If we were camping, why don't we drive out to a restaurant that, I don't know, has a TV? I had to beeeeg to stay up and bum on the couch for a super late night game when we stayed the weekend with my aunt in Frankfort. I know it's a school night, but how does B-Dub's sound at 10 pm? I had to make visits to see Caroline more than just a weekend thing to bum her TV, too. Every week it was a mission to get to view this immaculate game I was so terribly elated with.

The regular season was tough. With our quad HoFers (Hall of Famers), we were immediately tagged to possibly be the successors of those '96 Payton-beating Bulls in all-time wins. It started beautifully ... until Karl Malone got hurt for the very first time in his entire fricking life. Scott Williams, the most irrelevant player to ever get in the league, decided he overzealously just had to compensate for his lack of significance by jumping for the only time in his career to defend a jump shot and just had land on top of The Mailman's knee. Jerk. No one knew then, but it would cost him much of the season and get reaggravated literally a game before the NBA Finals. That left us ... *sigh* ... Slava Medvedenko (intended to be read irritatingly slow, syllable-by-syllable) as our next power forward option. Doomed.

Here's the 2004 season fast-forwarded, which toyed with every emotion I didn't know I had. Kobe had one of most classic endings ever to the regular season, with playoff seeding on the line. In regulation, Kobe flung off Ruben Patterson for an absolutely disgusting way-too-far-away off-balance three pointer to send the game into overtime. And if only to outdo himself, Kobe came off a screen at the buzzer of the second overtime to hit another fade-away three over the switching shot blocker Theo Ratliff which gave them the improbable season-ending win. This leap-frogged them from the 4th seed to 2nd seed as the Pacific Division champs, only behind the (soon to expire) T-Wolves and a much more favorable schedule. This somehow positively capped a regular season of Bryant stupidity involving (... of course ...) the rape trial and shot selection questioning which all came boiling over during a game against Sacramento where Kobe seemingly refused to shoot the ball under any circumstances in the first half. Just to prove a point. Ugggh. But I knew we'd get it straight in the playoffs. We had to. This was my adopted franchise!

We made short work of the then-rising Houston Rockets with the human log Yao Ming and soon-to-be-nonexistant Steve Francis. I specifically remember a nail-biting where the Lake Show played entirely perfect defense on a crazy long 24 second sequence where Houston had one last shot for the game, ending on a back-up option kick-out to Jim Jackson which was heavily contested (and thankfully missed) by our rotating defender. Those are the kinds of missed opportunities by underdog teams that legitimately kick them in the butt and they rarely recover from. But who cares about H-Town? We had to take a cab up I-(something or another) to San Antonio for the defending champs.

And the rusty boot-pokies (or Spurs, if you wanna be all proper) blitzed us. I mean, I hate football as well as unnecessary inter-sport references, but they absolutely knocked the wind out of us with Tony Parker getting any and every uncontested lay-up he cared for along with Tim Duncan being all boring and efficient like usual. Most people called for Shaq or Karl to simply club the Frenchman in the face for the rest of the series to deter his lay-upnicity. While they did adjust to body him up better from that point on, it just turned out that all the Lakers needed was a classic miracle for the ages by the player everyone least expected. You know, one of those.

So we’d somehow tied the series up 2-2. Who knew? It was Game 5 back on their turf. Pivotal, ya know? Crazy great contested game leading all the way to an exhausted Kobe go-ahead jumper off a classic Karl Malone screen with under a minute to go. Then the Spurs come down and we play crazy defense on them and force an inbounds with only a few second on the shot clock. Great position, right? And all Tim Duncan does is catch the ball out of his range, taking a bobbling couple of dribbles leading into a falling one-handed jumper/floater/turd of a shot that just so happens to fall through the net to give them the lead with nothing but 0.4 seconds left on the game clock. Zero-point-four seconds. Four-tenths-of-a-second. Fantastic.

So I guess Phil drew up a play or whatnot. I assume coaches do or say something inspirational to rally the troops in impossible situations. Anyways, masterful inbounder Gary Payton claps the ball on the wing, everyone starts in motion, and Gregg Pop-a-zit queues a quick timeout. Ugh. Re-do. Masterful inbounder Gary Payton claps the ball on the wing, everyone starts in motion, and Phil Jax queues a quick timeout. Ugh. Re-do. Masterful inbounder Gary Payton claps the ball on the wing, everyone starts in motion, and no one calls a timeout this time. Shaq and Karl run this double screen set in the paint to free up Kobe for a flash out at the three point line. But he’s covered. Dually, Shaq tries to rub off into an attempt for an alley-oop, but it’s covered. Karl falls back to towards a possible hole around the free throw, but … yep … it’s covered. Hmmm … has it been five seconds yet? Apparently not. There’s seemingly no one to go to, but out of nowhere … nowhere … Derek Fisher (who knew he was even in the game?) flares out directly towards GP who by now has to let go off the ball. In one motion, after seemingly hours of suspense, Fisher catches it mid-turn and lefty flings it a mile up in the air. To make a .4 second story even shorter … it swished. Pandemonium 2004! I think I screamed at that moment for (I hope) the only time in my life. Without even meaning to I launched out of my bed and found myself running up and down the hall at like midnight or whatever. One of the single greatest moments I can ever remember.

The Spurs were dead after that one. Of course they lost in L.A. on the Game 6 closeout. We were on a juggernaut rampage now and no one would get in our way. Not even the league-leading Timberwolves. In a series where Kevin Garnett cussed a lot, Latrell Sprewell had cornrows a lot, Sam Cassell looked like Gollum a lot, Michael Olowakandi lacked basketball skills a lot, and Oliver Miller prolly ate doughnuts a lot, the Lakers prevailed in six. That’s all you really need to know. It went a game longer than it should have, but even after Karl Malone left the series a little gimpy, everyone knew the inexperienced Eastern champ (by default of conference suckiness) Pistons would be no match for us. We had four HoFers (if you needed reminding)! They had a ragamuffin band of unwanted parts that couldn’t put points on the board and barely had an all-star résumé between them. Case closed. Cancel the Finals and hand out the rings.

Now this minor little part of the story is so painful that I refuse to relive it piece by piece. It was now into June of the summer after my 8th grade year and I had my one church camp of the year leaving a day after Game 3 where the Lakers were down 1-2 in the series. I was devastated to have to leave after the previous night’s game where I literally turned the TV off and tried to go to sleep after the third quarter of a pathetically mediocre Laker showing (but I couldn’t handle it a half hour later and turned it back on, just to see them in the same exact hole with seconds left). But so be it. With all my instantaneous obsession with the NBA, I somehow had just enough sense left to know God could take precedence over what was going on in the basketball world. Begrudgingly so. But I swore I was going to camp without the burden of the Finals outcome and wouldn’t be sneaking around to find out the scores over the week. But the jerk camp leaders who had TVs and cell phones for nighttime use just haaad to talk about the games the mornings after anyway. Ugh. The website prolly didn’t exist back then, but FML.

[to be continued]

... but do take my word for it.

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