Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Playing the good sport - Celtics vs. Lakers 2010 NBA Finals

The Internet saved my life last week. I had to take a nice, long walk after game seven of the NBA Finals, and if not for the ability to access video clips of the post-game press conferences via the web, I don't know where I'd be right now. Because it really took watching Mr. Kobe Bryant and Mr. Ron Artest (the real Finals MVP) speak to the media about what winning that game and that series meant to them for me to be able to accept losing the championship to their team. And after calling into the Doug Gottlieb and Jalen Rose show on ESPN radio first thing Friday morning to register my complaints about how the game was officiated, I was able to move on to Red Sox baseball.

Mr. Bryant has now joined guys like James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter as players I have to respect even though they wear the wrong uniforms. Knowing your opponent's intensity is a reflection of what they see in you (and vice-versa) has to be taken as a compliment to a competitor. So, because he finally humbled himself and admitted the diva thing was an act he used to get himself to where he needed to be mentally in order to beat my team, I have canceled my membership in the Kobe Hater's Club — effective immediately after the ring presentation ceremony next season.

What did I tell Doug and Jalen? First, I congratulated the Lakers and their fans for winning the championship because we Bostonians are classy like that. Then I pointed out some of the things we saw in that game that we've never seen before. We've never seen this Lakers team score so few points and win, we've never seen this Celtics team give up so few points and lose, and we haven't seen a winning team shoot as poorly as the Lakers shot since the league was all white dudes. I didn't get a chance to mention that we also saw Lakers center Pau Gasol turn into a combination of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaq O'Neal, and Ben Wallace; joining those former defensive players of the year as the only centers to play 40-plus minutes in a Finals game and commit two fouls or less. Pau's first defensive foul came on the Celtics' second offensive possession of the game; I'm still waiting for referees Joe Crawford, Dan Crawford, or Scott Foster to call his second.

Putting aside how tough it is to get or defend a lead when the refs don't see the other team's big man commit a foul on anyone for the whole game, Thursday night was the kind of NBA basketball I love to watch. Living in L.A., you don't get to see those team-oriented, unfriendly, physical games that prove basketball at the highest level is not a one-on-one, finesse, non-contact sport (note to Commissioner Stern: the people like it best when the officials go unnoticed). Both teams played hard with and for each other and every player left it all on the floor. If I had been at Staples Center that night, I would have given a 20-minute standing ovation — then I would have spent the next three hours throwing up.

Before the game I let some friends know that no matter what happened, I loved them (I figured they would know what that meant if I went missing). After my walk, I watched Mr. Bryant's press conference once and Mr. Artest's press conference about 50 times — and I decided living in a world where these Lakers are back-to-back champs is slightly preferable to ending it all. Artest's 10 minute video should be required viewing for all young Lakers fans wanting to know what passion for your team and your sport looks like. The benefits of unselfishness and team play are written on Ronnie's face when he raises his hands exclaiming, "Kobe passed me the ball!" That face kept me out of the abyss.

Boston sports fans are lucky to the point of being spoiled by championships in pro sports. One thing we all learned from our Patriots' gut-wrenching 2008 Super Bowl loss is that sometimes it's just not meant to be. We can take heart in knowing it took a series of mathematical improbabilities for these Lakers to keep us from our championship; and the 2010 Finals delivered all anyone could have asked for on either side. These guys played an ugly game of basketball beautifully, and the team that played best together was the team that won — as it should be.

I love Boston and I always will so this pains me to say, but if I was a Lakers fan living there, people wouldn't be happy for me right now. As a Celtics fan in Santa Monica, I know my friends would be. That's why I live here and not there — well, that and the perfect weather. So after a lot of emotional heavy lifting, I can admit that Kobe Bryant has earned my respect as a basketball player and that I'm happy for my L.A. friends and my adopted city. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.


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