Posted Jun 18 2010 10:19PM
LOS ANGELES -- The utter strangeness of the night first could be felt among the anxiety attacks ricocheting around Staples Center in the third quarter, with the Celtics pushing the lead to 13 points and the Lakers showing no sign of an offensive pulse. It became clear, in a whole different kind of way, as confetti and streamers fell from the rafters a little while later. Then, finally, we heard it, with Kobe Bryant playfully jumping Shaquille O'Neal.
There hadn't been a Lakers night like this one for at least 15 years. Probably 25. Maybe ever.
In the ultimate perspective, Thursday night was strange even for a franchise that often exists in an alternate universe. It was the surreality of winning a Finals Game 7 while shooting 32.5 percent from the field and 67.6 from the line, and the bizarreness of Ron Artest stepping to the head table for a press conference, spotting his image among many Lakers on a cereal box and shouting, "I got Wheaties!"
Pau Gasol shed the soft label forever, the front office shed the criticism of choosing Artest over Trevor Ariza last summer and the entire Lakers organization shed the Celtics when a second loss to Boston in the last three Junes would have stained everything.
Game 7 was a full moon kind of night in a bizarro world doused in champagne, difficult to grasp as it unfolded. And that was for the winning side. Imagine how this goes down in New England.
Wait. We lost to a team that had 34 points at halftime, 53 at the start of the fourth and all of 83 at the end? With Bryant going 6-of-24, with twice as many turnovers (four) as assists, even though he also had 15 rebounds and made 11-of-15 free throws? As Artest, shooting 35.2 percent the first six games, went 7-of-18, had 20 points, five rebounds and five steals and prompted several from the game to call him the best player of the night?
This will take everyone some time to digest. Or as Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after adding to his collection of rings:
"Well, it's done. It wasn't well done, but it was done. And we did it with perseverance."
It was never supposed to be a typical season. Artest was the new act in town, and act he did. He made an appearance in San Diego to promote an exhibition game there and said, "I thought I was going to be getting some Golden State Warriors fans, because I didn't know where I was at." He also said fans should blame him if the Lakers didn't repeat, though it was management that made the call to break up the proven championship formula by signing Artest rather than re-signing Ariza.
So maybe that was relief coming out nearly nine months later as Artest stepped on to the small stage in one of the rooms at Staples Center and basically apologized to the Pacers for his actions five or six years earlier, thanked the doctor that has been counseling him and exclaimed about cereal. The captured moment was probably viral on YouTube by the time he got to his car.
It was good, nutty fun. From Bryant, too. He opened up, clearly loving the moment after months of being in character as Focused Playoff Man. He brought his two daughters to sit with him in the interview room and admitted what he had denied all along, that this Finals was different because it was the Celtics.
The night took another curious turn when one of the reporters asked Bryant what the title means to him, personally. There was nothing in the question, or the four previous ones, about his former starting center.
"Just got one more than Shaq," Bryant said, breaking the room up. "You can take that to the bank. You know how I am. I don't forget anything."
Within a couple hours, O'Neal offered a congratulatory statement via Twitter:
Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it. U played great. Enjoy it man enjoy it. I know what ur sayin "Shaq how my [expletive] taste"
From here, the Lakers will hold their parade, then transition into a semi-quiet offseason, at least in comparison to their season. Jackson and the team will have to come to an agreement on whether the coach will return (he told NBA.com he'll decide before next week's Draft).
Point guard Derek Fisher and one of his backups, Jordan Farmar, are both unrestricted free agents, so that will have to be worked through. Starting center Andrew Bynum faces surgery for his sore knee.
But there's always something going on with the Lakers, and maybe never more than on Thursday night. Win a game in unexpected fashion to claim a title that had been very expected, break out the sideshows, re-ignite a feud and wonder whether it will be the final moment with Jackson.
All in one strange, unforgettable evening in L.A.
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