BOSTON, June 4, 2008 -- After NBA Finals newbie and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked a series of questions about the significance a title can bring to a player’s legacy during Wednesday’s media availability session, the normally verbose communicator cut straight to the point.
“Bottom line is,” Rivers stated, “you’re only going to remember the winners.”
The general population celebrates success. They’ll have the image of a Superbowl winner announcing to the camera that he’s going to Disneyworld embedded in their head, but there’s no spot in their memory for the banged and bruised loser taking his pads off in the locker room.
I can tell you that Kelly Clarkson was the first American Idol, but I can’t tell you the name of the guy she beat, or anything much else about him other than the fact that he looked like a 1/3 scaled down version of Anderson Varejao.
People waste time online answering quizzes like this one, about all the winning U.S. Presidents. I’m pretty sure there isn’t an “Also Ran Edition” with Al Gore and Michael Dukakis as answers.
But there is one sect of society that remembers all of the losers – the losers themselves.
For all of the talk praising Los Angeles as a storied franchise, the fact of the matter is that the Lakers have a 79-82 (.491) all-time record in Finals games and a 14-14 mark in the championship series.
The last time L.A. made it to The Finals was 2004 as heavy favorites against the Detroit Pistons.
Going into the series all the focus was on the Lakers nucleus that had already won three rings in the previous four years and added future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to ensure a fourth in five.
Only it didn’t quite go down that way.
The Pistons dominated the series, winning 4-1 while outscoring the Lakers by an average of 13.3 points in those four victories.
It’s a human coping mechanism to block out bad memories, but when I asked Kobe Bryant when’s the last time he thought about the series when he shot 43-for-113 from the field (.381), 4-for-23 from three (.174) and averaged a paltry sum of 22.6 points and a hefty total of 3.6 turnovers per game, he was quick to answer without having to rifle through his memory bank.
“We thought about it right after we won the Western Conference title game … [It was] something that Phil [Jackson] brought up instantaneously about remembering that sensation.”
It was a particularly tough series for Bryant who had a historically bad Game 4 (see chart: Fewest FGM on 25+ FGA, NBA Finals since 1992 Playoffs) with the Lakers down 2-1, in need of a win to even the series or face a daunting 3-1 deficit.
Bryant shot just 8-for-25 from the field in Game 4 and after the game said about his shot selection, "Some of them were good and some of them stunk. That's pretty much every game with me."
The Finals loss spurred a chain of events changing the look of the Lakers franchise, including the departure of Shaquille O’Neal to Miami, Derek Fisher to Golden State, an exodus by Payton and Malone and a year-long sabbatical by Jackson.
After all of the roster turnover, only four members of the Finals 2004 Lakers squad are on the Finals 2008 edition – Bryant, Fisher, Jackson and Luke Walton – and two of them – Fisher and Jackson – were gone for a portion of the four years in between.
While Kobe says he thought about 2004 last week, Walton and Fisher have had it on their mind even more recently than that.
“I think about it all the time,” Walton said. “It’s tough. It’s a terrible feeling. In the summer time when you’re working out, or especially now that we’re back in The Finals, it’s definitely making the memories a lot more vivid.”
Walton added that its even more painful for him because Jackson is 9-for-10 in The Finals as a coach, Fisher and Bryant are both 3-for-4, but he’s the lone loser at 0-for-1.
“Hopefully we use that loss and that feeling we had after losing the series to help us with this series and if it does help us then, hey, it’s worth it.”
Even though Fisher has three rings to fall back on, it’s the one that eluded him that he dwells on.“I don’t stop thinking about that,” Fisher said. “Getting to this point and not finishing off the job is not a fun feeling.
“You can get to this point, and its great, and you are to be commended for making the NBA Finals, but, walking away losing The Finals is nowhere even in the same stratosphere as losing The Finals.”
Fisher described all of the challenges a team faces in sustaining a championship level team – “personnel, coaching changes, injuries” – that make him relish this trip to The Finals even more. He should know, he’s been on three teams in the last three seasons and only returned to L.A. because of an off-the-court family situation.
“You should never approach it as if you’re going to be here again,” Fisher said. “You have to make the most of it when you have this opportunity. I think the Big Three, so called, on the other team will tell you more than anybody how many years and how much effort and how much hard work goes into a career to never have been here before. This is difficult to do.”
So, Doc Rivers, you were wrong. If you and the Big Three’s and ride ends without a ring this year, somebody will remember it:
You and the Big Three will.