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The End of the Phil Jackson Era

The end of an era

It has been a great run. I remember hearing Phil Jackson was going to be the Lakers coach. I was a Sophomore in High School. It didn’t seem right. I just was so used to seeing him surrounded by red and black.

I knew that the team was special. I knew that Shaq was absolutely dominant. I knew that Kobe was one of the best guards to ever play the game. I had no idea the ride I was going as an avid fan: A ride that was going to provide the backdrop for so many of my life changes.

The Lakers erased a twenty-point deficit in a game seven in route to a 2000 championship.

I met and began developing friendships with some of my closest friends. Juan, who still watches the Lakers close championships with me, became the unlikely best friend in my life. The 6 foot Mexican and 5’3″ white guy. You could spot us from a mile away.

The Lakers coasted to a 2001 championship, with no one even doubting for a second they would be the champs. They went 15-1 through the playoffs. Seriously, the NBA could have taken the year off and given the Lakers the ring.

I got in my first, serious relationship. I started a Christian rap-rock band that strove to be a mix between Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine. I was the lead rapper. I realized if I couldn’t be the tall guy or athletic guy at school, I’d make a name for myself as the funny guy, the smart guy, or the Christian guy.

The Lakers played the best series I have ever seen. The Kings take them all seven games. A lucky bounce and buzzer shot by Robert Horry is the only thing that kept the series alive. When the Lakers went down 2-3, I thought it was over.

The ALHS class of 2002 graduates. Seven of us took all the desks out of my High School. Ben and I leave school every, single day for lunch, trying to sneak past Ducky. Juan is with us about 50 percent of the time. He had a different lunch.

2004: 0.4 seconds (many of you know exactly what that means).

There’s a blow up. A rape trial derails the team, vilifies a millionaire child, and blows up an entire franchise. The dream team falls apart in the 2004 finals against the Pistons. The team is completely dismantled.

There’s a nasty break-up, a community college, and a new group of dear friends building. I start a season of ministry. I am preaching every week, and learning what it means to have a family at Church. The group grows quickly. The best friend moves (who is also the worship leader). The group struggles. Great success, great failure, great friendships.

I meet the woman of my dreams. I graduate college. I move across the entire country. Grad school starts.

Kobe starts scoring 50 points every game for like a month. He scores 81 one night. Lakers keep losing. Kobe wants out.

Two words: Pau Gasol.

I am learning about myself, Church History, and what it means to follow Christ. My way of gaining knowledge is shattered. I learn what intellectual submission is. I learn what faith is.

Lakers dropped a 30-point lead in route to a Finals defeat to the Boston Celtics.

I change denominations, graduate seminary, get confirmed, and move across the country.

After a scare from the Denver Nuggets, who people called dirty when they were just a damn tough group of guys, the Lakers are crowned 2009 NBA champions. Juan and I embrace.

Ileana and I struggle to find work in the Inland Empire. Ordination stretches into a long process. My parents move to Vegas. We move to Redlands. We make some new acquaintances, struggle to make friends in a church where the average age is 45 years older than us, and try unsuccessfully to conceive a child for over a year.

The Lakers have their vengeance. They win an ugly Game 7 over the Celtics in one of the best defensive battles I have ever seen, and are crowned the champions.

Now, it’s over. Deep down, I had a feeling it would end in defeat. I watched a lot of miracles happen over the last decade. I watched shots fall that shouldn’t have, fade aways from Kobe drop, Horry bombing 3’s, Pau sinking hook after hook, Fisher playing tough, and even Ron Artest coming up with a miraculous Game 7. Somehow, though. this team never seemed to have it. It seemed they would get exposed.

I didn’t expect it to end like this. I didn’t expect it to end in a 36-point beatdown where Bynum is dropping JJ Barea out of the sky on a meaningless play (by the way, before you jump to the ‘these guys have no class’ stuff, go to your average church league and picture those guys down 36 points with 25000 people singing “Goodbye.” Don’t judge by a standard you would hate to be judged by. Men do stupid things when they are embarrassed).

The Mavs exposed them. The Mavs dominated them. And the Lakers were beaten down by a better team.

I didn’t expect it to end like this, but I loved the ride. I loved the Phil Jackson era. I loved watching this team. I loved the mind games, the press conferences, the times I was screaming for a time out, the calculated comments in the media, and the silly quotes.

I got to thinking after Game 7 last year, “Why do I care so much?” I realized that after the Lakers became champions, nothing changed for me. I went to work the next day, and all that changed was that there was a five minute conversation about the game.

As I’ve thought about it, I think that part of why I love this team is that I have enjoyed watching this team throughout so many changes in life. In many ways, the Phil Jackson era mirrored true life. Life is full of tragedy and triumph, victory and defeat. It is filled with champagne celebrations and timeouts after blown assignments. Throughout the ups and downs of my life, I watched Phil Jackson, sitting there with the same smug look on his face, whether the Lakers were up twenty or down twenty.

I watched this game with so many different communities. I watched it with a bunch of high school kids. I watched it with a college ministry. I watched it in enemy territory, as perhaps the only Lakers fan on DTS campus. I came back to the IE in time for two straight victories.

I went from a child to man. Single to dating to single to married. 16 year old High School mascot to Masters of Theology.  Baptist to Anglican. Elated to disappointed to elated again. Life has changed. A lot. And, through all the tragedy and triumph I have spent many, many evenings cheering on the purple-and-gold through their own tragedy and triumph.

It was a great era. Lakers fans are truly blessed. Sports fans almost never get to watch a team win five championships in eleven years. With how evenly matched the league has gotten, it may not happen again for a long time.

It is the end of an era. It ended on a sour note, but it was great. Phil Jackson won championships in over half the seasons he coached. That would be remarkable if there were only 3 teams in the NBA. With the size and talent of the league, what he did was unbelievable.

As the second quarter closed with 3-pointer after 3-pointer it became clear that the day I feared came sooner and much uglier than I thought: It was a great ride with Phil,

But it’s over.


2 Responses

  1. Nice way to sum up your thoughts on the Lakers and your life. If the Cubs ever win the World Series I might know what you feel lie.

    I do think they lacked class, though. You can’t compare weekend warriors in a pickup game to professionals in the most elite league on the planet.

    • I agree. They certainly lacked class. I have no desire to defend those actions, especially Andrew Bynum’s foul. My only point was to say it is best to refrain from making generalizations about them based on how they behaved in one of the worst moments in their professional career. What they did was stupid. They failed to go out with class. To say the lacked class is accurate. To say they lack class is a bit hasty. I have seen many teams dismantled over the years. Many of them have done similar things. In those times, I have tried to extend them the same courtesy of avoiding sweeping generalizations about their character.

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