Archive for Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Love of Bird leads to loathing of Lakers

June 21, 2000

I hate the Lakers.

It's not that they aren't a good basketball team, and it's not that they didn't deserve to win the NBA championship Monday night.

It's not even that Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are a couple of the worst sports I have ever seen. The trash-talking, spoiled, over-paid basketball player is the norm anymore and, besides, The Pacers have two prototypes in Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose.

But the Pacers were my team because Larry Bird was their coach. I say he was their coach because this was his last season as a coach in the NBA.

And he ended his coaching career the same way he ended his playing career with a game six loss to the L.A. Lakers.

That loss in 1987 marked not only the end of Bird's career, but also was the end of an era that saw the Lakers and the Boston Celtics dominate the league for a decade.

And though the Lakers won another championship in 1988 against a strong Detroit team, the era came to a close with the end of Bird's career.

True, Magic Johnson still played for the Lakers, but Johnson wasn't as good without Bird. Something was lacking.

You can't appreciate sunny skies, without some days of cloud cover, and you can't appreciate cloud cover, without days of blistering heat.

Magic thrived on his rivalry with Bird and vice-versa, and you couldn't really appreciate how good one was unless he had to beat the other.

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry was secondary to these two players who revitalized a league sorely in need of a superstar.

The rivalry began in 1979 the last year of college for both Bird and Magic. In the NCAA championship game, as would become the norm in the '80s, Magic's team, Michigan State, beat Bird's team, Indiana State.

And so a trend was set: Bird vs. Magic.

Magic was the No. 1 draft pick. Bird was rookie of the year. Boston won the championship in '81. The Lakers won in '82.

Skip 1983, when Moses Malone led a strong Philadelphia team to the championship, and either the Lakers or the Celtics won every championship until Detroit won its back-to-back titles, starting in '89.

And it's not that I hate any of the Lakers' players, it's just that they always seem to beat the quiet unassuming champion from Salt Lick, Ind., when it seems like he should finally get a break.

I can't believe the Pacers blew lead after lead, took bad shot after bad shot and let the Lakers back into the game.

It seemed that they didn't have luck on their side

It's almost as if God is a Lakers fan. It's almost as if He said, "Let there be born a referee whose vision all the sudden becomes blurry in the closing minutes of game six of the 2000 NBA finals, so he calls an imaginary foul and hands the game to the Lakers."

But I can't really blame the lights-out shooting by unexpected Lakers late in the game on some divine act.

In truth, the Lakers pulled the game out with some late-game marksmanship from unexpected players.

The Lakers played with intensity in the second half after a lack-luster first half.

The Lakers rallied at the end of every quarter to keep them in it, so they had a chance to pull it out in the end.

The Lakers deserved to win, and I'm just whining.

I still hate them though.

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