The court filled with players, fans and others who stood around basking in the moment. The whole scene seemed like a throwback to a time when the Lakers dominated the NBA, when the Fabulous Forum housed all those victories, all those celebrations, all those Jack Nicholson leers.
But this really wasn’t about the old days, even though the feeling was palpable that the Lakers had returned to what they believe is their rightful place in the NBA Finals. This was about these Lakers, a group that seems as if it has all the moving parts to win it all.
Even Kobe Bryant let himself reminisce a bit. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he recalled of the first time he met West, whom he calls his mentor. “I was 17 in his Lexus riding around, scared to talk because I’m sitting next to Mr. Clutch. It is pretty awesome.”
Before the national anthem, said Bryant, “He got my attention and said, ‘Kick their ass.’”
The Lakers dismissed the Spurs in five games in the conference finals, a result that few would have ever hallucinated about only a year ago. It wasn’t a real butt whipping in the sense that the Spurs were humiliated. Yet in a way it was almost worse than if that had happened. The Lakers methodically and efficiently outplayed the team that heretofore had been known as the league’s premier practitioners of team play and defense.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said afterward that his team had objectives coming into the series, and they were met. “We told our team at the beginning we wanted to stop their transition offense, which we did,” he said. “We wanted to hold them to the low 90s, which we did. We wanted to cut their free throws as a team and Kobe’s, which we did drastically.
“If we really thought we would be able to do all that, I would think the series would be a win for us. So the fact that we didn’t come through offensively is a disappointment, but part of that is a credit to the Lakers.”
In other words, the Lakers have the complete package, and they hit the Spurs over the heads with it. Next stop: Boston.
But Lakers coach Phil Jackson sounded a note of caution.
“As I told the players tonight, there’s nothing like losing the Finals for a negative feeling about a year after you’ve played as well as you’ve played, not to finish the job up,” he said. “As much as I appreciate the league trying to emphasize the Western Conference trophy, that doesn’t mean too much when that big prize is still out there.”
Yes, the NBA championship is still up for grabs. But the Lakers have to this point demonstrated they’re the most qualified to seize it.
While Detroit struggled some with Philadelphia and now with Boston, and while the Celtics had to endure seven-game series against Atlanta and Cleveland before taking on the Pistons, the Lakers — in a conference regarded as far superior to the East from top to bottom — have been more cutthroat and determined.
PBT: San Antonio found what worked and it’s on the Grizzlies to raise their level enough in Game 2 in San Antonio on Tuesday to get a split in the series.
PBT: San Antonio executed its game plan well in Game 1, shutting down Grizzlies star Zach Randolph.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Grizzlies ready for 'running' Spurs
DPS: Lionel Hollins tells us how he plans to play against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Latest from ProBasketballTalk
Get your NBA cheer on
Check out some of the dancers from the NBA.
The second season
Slide show: Top images from the 2008 NBA playoffs.
When athletes and celebs get together
A visual tour of the many links between sports and Hollywood stars.
A look at the highs and lows of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's career.
Buzzer Beater: Gasol's manhood in question?
May 29: Phil Jackson uses the term 'weenie' to describe Gasol's playing and Kobe's crazy wife.