Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Part Six: Move That Bus

We parted with one of our rising studs in Caron Butler to get … wait for it … wait for it … … … Kwame Brown. Laker supporters now had to defend the likes of Kuh-wah-me Brown. Maybe the most legitimate bust of a #1 pick in National Basketball Association history. And yet while he was a beloved Laker, I took the intiative to twist his inadequacies a lil’ bit. Yes, I’m guilty of it. His lack of mobility became his superb defensive fortitude and immovability! His refusal to offensively assert himself became his team-oriented selflessness! His ineptitude to develop any sense of purpose on the basketball court became his still untapped potential! His cement bricks for hands became his … no, those were the exact same. Those (purple & gold) rose-colored glasses that I refused to replace with normal contacts led me to root for, again, Kuh-wah-me Brown. I still can’t believe it myself.

But you know why I thought the team could work? The Lakers restarted their seemingly impossible re-rebuilding phase by bringing back the igniter that had never failed over an extended period of time. Ever. Phil Jackson. Freshly rested from his Kobe-snitching “The Last Season” book tour, our resident Zen Master decided that the bad blood really wasn’t that bad. If he brought this team of Chex Mix-like pieces together, then that would really be something. Could title aspirations come out of an utter failure of a season just because P-Jax was back at the helm? We would see.

The very first game of that season was so exciting that no one could be blamed for having hope. Future aspirations were heaped on rookie center Andrew Bynum, though everyone new Phil disregarded most rookies. Our newly signed (strictly because no one else wanted him) point guard Smush Parker would start his season-opening string of 20-point games that had everyone tagging him as an epic find and out-of-nowhere potential playmaking star. It seemed that way at first. Shut up. The specific excitement came in the form of an overtime game-winning possession against the Denver Nuggets. I guess Phil thought he would make an immediate legend of Kwame, because he designed the play for him. And it looked pretty good actually. The guy made a strong (albeit terrified) move to the basket for a lay-up. Which he botched, of course. But the ball got immediately tapped out and found its way into Kobe’s hands, and he in turn mopped up the mess by hitting a highly contested straight on go-ahead jumper from 22 feet. Let the ascension begin.

But it didn’t quite begin. Yes, this was a season of legend by the (soon to be former) #8 that will probably never be individually replicated, but the team didn’t live up to lofty bounce-back expectations. This was the stretch of Bryant’s career where he created a whole other standard of scoring expertise. Comparisons were blown out the window. The once-arguable matchup of offensive savvy between Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant was no longer relevant. In a near unbelievable first three quarters of a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Kobe outscored the entire opposing squad at a clip of KB: 62, Mavs: 61. He then proceeded to kick back the entire fourth quarter and never reenter the game, which led to harsh criticism of him depraving the public of an all-time historical performance. Just weeks later, as if a direct answer to the critics, Kobe came out firing again against the Toronto Raptors. When it was all said and done, every defender in the arena that night had Kobe imprinted on their foreheads to the tune of 81 points. Like … that’s … e-i-g-h-t-y o-n-e. Even further disregarding all semblance of logic, he went on a tear of four consecutive games with over 45 points scored. It became a day-to-day display of excellence for Kobe, finishing the season, unbelievably, with a scoring clip of 35.4 points per game. But somehow … somehow … we weren’t able to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack in the Western Conference. It seemed that the rest of the team sometimes sat almost in reverence to Bryant’s individual accolades, never quite coming together cohesively in any way, shape, or form. Only on the strength of Jackson’s pedigree and Kobe’s single-handed brilliance, we reached the playoffs as the 7th seed.

Which meant we met up with the MVP-having Phoenix Suns in the first round. That was during Steve Nash’s two-year reign of making a mockery out of the award-selecting panel. I still have a disgusting taste in my mouth from it. But you know what happened? Game 4 happened. The Lakers made all the adjustments to expose the Suns as fastbreaking phonies. We force fed Kwame and Lamar the ball down low to punish the undersized punks and overachieved our way towards perfectly setting up the commercial-ready moment where in overtime, a jump ball with 6 seconds left on the clock was recovered by Kobe at half court. He took the scene in slowly off the dribble at a diagonal, reaching the opposite wing in an exact amount of calculated steps. Everyone knew the ball would be his and his only. Every opposing player in the vicinity fell upon his shooting elbow. But Kobe, encompassing every facet of perfectionist determination, lifted into the air and gently released the orange roundie to meet its due company in the form of flipping nylon. With that buzzer-beater, the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead. We were on the verge of overthrowing the (*airquotes*) MVP and every playoff choker he called a teammate.

[to be continued]

... but do take my word for it.

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