Basketball Mecca Will Rise Again

Contrary to renowned sports agent Leigh Steinberg's prediction that things will get worse for the NBA: Los Angeles, and NBA fans in general, will quickly forget about the lockout.  They will overlook the silliness of a debate over splitting $4 billion in revenue between owners and players during the nation’s economic disparity.

How can we be so sure?  Consider the 1998 lockout.  The NBA was at its prime, only to be crushed by disagreements between stingy coaches and players.  Actually, this lockout resulted in an even bigger loss of games than the current one, each team played 51 games in 98-99 vs. the 66 games to be played in the upcoming season.  For those who don’t know, the LA Lakers did not fare well that year, being swept by the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.  But, oh did they rebound.

Consider the familiar names of the 98-99 roster: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and Glen Rice.  These 6 young promising players banded together to be joined by Phil Jackson and Ron Harper the following season.  These seven players under the premier coaching of Jackson catapulted themselves to the forefront of the NBA, dancing circles around other teams in the league and winning three national championships, in a row.

If that is not proof enough, maybe consider the fall from grace the Lakers soon suffered after asserting themselves as the top team in the NBA.  The Shaq-Kobe clash resulted in Shaq being traded, Jackson leaving the team and shortly after, publishing a book in which he referred to Kobe as “uncoachable”.  Fisher opted to leave as well.  If that is not enough controversy surrounding the team, then Kobe’s high profile rape allegation was the cherry on top.  But Laker fans kept their faith.

Sure, fans were frustrated when the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005 for the 5th time in franchise history, and they felt Kobe’s pain when he demanded to be traded after the 2007 season due to two consecutive years of being eliminated from the playoffs after the first round.  However, with Kobe’s historic 81-point game against the Raptors in 2006 and Jackson’s return to Los Angeles, Buss could not relinquish the rights to Black Mamba.

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Fisher’s return to Los Angeles, the acquiring of Pau Gasol, and young Andrew Bynum’s promising talent was enough to keep Kobe around.  Gasol revitalized the seemingly washed up team and the Lakers finally reasserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with, falling in 6 games to the Celtics in the NBA finals.  The following 08-09 season, the Lakers returned to the limelight and defeated the Magic in a 5 game series during the NBA finals.

09-10 proved to be even more exciting.  Controversial bad boy Ron Artest joined the Lakers and earned a starting spot.  They also became the first franchise in the NBA to garner 3,000 regular season victories.  Most importantly, they showed the Celtics whose boss during the NBA finals rematch.  They kept it interesting of course, coming back from a series 3-2 disadvantage.

However, the following (last) season started promisingly with fans and players hyped up on the prospect of a 2nd 3-peat within a decade.  But the team fell short – way short, they played a deplorable series against the Mavericks losing in 4 straight games.  Adding to the sting, Jackson announced his retirement and Bynum received a 5 game suspension (to be served in the upcoming season) for a dirty foul in the final game.

With the new season though, comes new hope – Mike Brown is shaking things up.  True the Lakers did not gain any super star personnel to carry the team on after Kobe retires, but not all hope is lost.  Kobe wants another ring before he retires – and Black Mamba has slinked his way through troubling situations before so this ambition cannot be easily dismissed.

However fans cannot help but notice all the commotion surrounding Kobe at the moment.  Kobe’s wife of 10 years, Vanessa Bryant, recently called it quits due to “irreconcilable differences.”  This leaves her entitled to half of Kobe’s estimated $150 million empire – there was no prenup.  Money aside, some form of joint custody for their two daughters will need to be negotiated as well.

Don’t forget about the newly torn ligament in his wrist.  Regardless of whether the injury requires surgery, it will be an issue.  Kobe was seen nursing an immobilized wrist on national television last night.  However, teammates seem sure that Kobe will be playing full force come Christmas day, and the rest of the games during their season opening 3 games in 3 days.  According to Derek Fisher, Kobe will “cut his wrist off and play with one before he misses Sunday.”  Bold claim – but hey, we’ve seen the greats do it before, remember Dirk Nowitzki’s 101-degree temperature this past NBA finals?

With all that said, the upcoming season is up in the air for the Lakers.  This year is going to be a test worthy to watch for the veteran roster.  However, I can attest to a high turnout of fans at the Staples Center come Christmas day.  Anxious fans will pack the stands to watch the Lakers take on the Chicago Bulls.

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