Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Kobe Bryant and the Fellowship of the Ring

Kobe Bryant and the Fellowship of the Ring

by rick olivares

A few weeks ago, it seemed a little far-fetched that the Boston Celtics would make the National Basketball Association Finals. On the other hand for the Los Angeles Lakers, it was like a foregone conclusion that they’d figure in the final clash for this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy.

Now it’s Boston versus Los Angeles for the 11th time. Rather than dwell on the obvious match-up, I thought I’d look at Kobe Bryant’s making the Finals from a different perspective.

Hindsight is 20/20 but say this about the Lakers’ management (from owner Jerry Buss down to General Manager Mitch Kupchak), they are wholly justified in retaining Bryant who is one of two remnants (the other being point guard Derek Fisher) of the early dynasty of the new millennium.

Bryant has led the team to its third straight Finals appearance sans Shaquille O'Neal (who may yet one day return to the Staples Center as a spectator and in better relations with the organization) and has an opportunity to avenge the humiliation of 2008 when Boston dusted off LA with a thorough butt kicking.

Come Game 1 this NBA Finals, it will be Bryant's seventh appearance with Los Angeles, one that ties him with James Worthy and Byron Scott (although both won only three titles in 1985, 1987 and 1988). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is next with eight trips to the title round (where he won five rings). Lastly, there is Jerry West and Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

When West was with the Lakers, he formed one of the game’s great duos alongside Elgin Baylor. However, if Baylor wasn’t injured, he spent the better portion of one season fulfilling his military service. Without Baylor, West shouldered the offensive load aside from leading the squad. The only time he surrendered leadership and the scoring lead was when Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich came on board years later and that was in the twilight of his career. "Mr. Clutch" as West was called -- he was "Big Game" even before Worthy -- made the NBA Finals for nine years but won only once – in 1972 when things simply turned LA’s way. It was painful for him to be turned back by Bill Russell's Boston Celtics almost year after year. And if it wasn’t those guys in green then it was Willis Reed's New York Knicks.

If West’s great career was marred by futility at the Big Dance, it was the opposite for Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Not since Bill Russell was in Celtic green had the NBA seen someone make the Finals seem like a birthright.

When the Lakers won the coin toss in 1979 and picked out Johnson from Michigan State (the Chicago Bulls were left with UCLA’s David Greenwood a serviceable but unspectacular center), the do-it-all point guard brought Los Angeles to a plateau that only Boston stood upon. Where the term “dynasty” -- rightfully reserved for centuries-old Chinese empires” as Chicago Sun Times writer Rick Telander once wrote -- was conferred upon the team. The team of the 1980’s to be more precise.

Johnson helped the Lakers to the title in his rookie year and at the expense of a supposedly stronger Philadelphia 76ers team that featured Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, Darryl Dawkins, and Maurice Cheeks among others. And Magic did it while playing center as he subbed for an injured Jabbar. He led them to eight more appearances for a total of five championships and on the way repaid as debt with Boston as they took the head-to-head Finals match up in the 80's 2-1.

And now, it's Kobe's turn to uphold the Lakers' honor.

After rudely being brushed aside in 2008, he led the purple and gold to a championship -- his fourth overall and first sans the Big Sour Puss (O’Neal) -- against the overmatched Orlando Magic. This season it's Boston-Los Angeles for the second time in three years. It revives a rivalry that was dead following the retirement of Johnson and Larry Bird.

A win by the Celtics will give their Big Three (or now the Big Four as Rajon Rondo has become one of the NBA’s elite) of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen their second title and at the very least dispel any talk of one-year wonders.

A win by the Lakers and it ties Bryant with Magic Johnson for the most titles won by a Laker (okay you can throw in George Mikan but that was in Minneapolis) with five. Whether he is thinking about it or not, that will give him one more than Shaq and put him one away from breaking the Lakers' record for most titles won by a player since current nucleus should be good for another two years.

But that might just be for conjecture.

Let a Larry Bird -- a Celtic of all persons -- quote put this in a whole different light. After winning his third title with Boston in 1986 against the Houston Rockets, said the self-proclaimed hick from French Lick, "Championship rings? I'm greedy about them."

No comments:

Post a Comment