Tuesday, August 16, 2011
BIRTH OF A DYNASTY
The game that changed it all.
NBA FINALS 2000-GAME 6: INDIANA PACERS 111-L.A. LAKERS 116
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
Let's take it back, way back. Before Dallas ended Phil Jackson's reign this year and before a Pau Gasol trade brought some gold back to the sunshine of California's favourite team. Way, way back, even before after taking three, the departure of Shaquille O'Neal led to the death of a dynasty. Let's take it back to when the dynasty began, back in the new millennium, where the Lakers where given new players, new uniforms and a new arena. It all looked so good with this forum of talent and purple and gold promise. All that stood in the new Los Angeles Lakers and their new beginning was Larry Bird (again), fellow hot-shooter Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. After five hard-fought, back and forth tempo games in STAPLES and the Conseico Fieldhouse in Indiana, the series came back to L.A. for a crucial Game 6. What could be more fitting? The entertainment capital of the world was about to make an exclamation in sports and who else to do it?
This is Larry Bird's last game as a head coach and just like when he was a player, tonight in California he's about to witness some magic that's going to leave him with nothing left to pull out the bag. The STAPLES Centre is electric (it looks like everyone's got those inflatable free-throw batons) and LOUD! I guess Shaq provided them lozenges he promised, the usual cool and calm Hollywood crowd is on it sensing their first championship since the eighties, as Shaq et al look to taste the champagne of the stars. Even Salma Hayek and Edward Norton are flexing courtside. IT'S SHOWTIME BABY!
Kobe (or Fro'be as he was back then) Bryant is showing some vintage young-man/Jordanesque moves as he wildly goes to the basket with that youthful passion and exuberance although the rim tames his shot, Shaq's put-back punishes it in return. GAME ON! Dale Davis is scrapping and hustling, Reggie's acting like he's in the Garden and as Kobe plants a nice fadeaway like Mike, Mark Jackson responds with a turn around heave from half-court (complete with Larry Johnson 'L') to give Indy the lead at the buzzer. This is still a series.
Like the commentator said, do you believe in omens? As that Jackson bit of action led to a three-point onslaught by Indiana in the second led by former Laker player and underrated outside/big-man revolutionary Sam Perkins. The big smooth is making his old side look sleepy, but then Robert Horry gets big on the other end of the court with a block that sends a Fisher break and delivery for O'Neal which is collected, collated and stuffed in the Pacers mailbox, complete with his trademark, all business no 'funny' stare.
O'Neal is right there and here ready to win that ring that had eluded him for so long. You can see it more in his eyes tonight, he wants it more than anybody in the arena. He cleans up Kobe's mess with another emphatic statement dunk after Mark Jackson hounded Kobe like he wanted to end the half like he did the first quarter. This is the Lakers time however as Ron Harper steals and passes to Kobe, taking the ball off his mentor, Kobe hits a three over Jackson with 2.5 to go in the half. This looks like lights out, even though the STAPLES Centre haven't employed that technique yet and we've still got 24 minutes to go in the ballgame.
Number 31 is getting his villain on and shooting the lights out trying to come out strong against these Hollywood heroes, but this is L.A.'s house. Veteran Harper knows how to win and pass as the former Chicago Bull makes his two-team coach Phil Jackson proud with a great play to Shaquille O'Neal. Meanwhile Kobe is trying to match Miller's outside shooting inside, while hot shooters like Glen Rice help the Lakers scoring arc. A young Deaven George dances on the bench, he'll have to wait for his opportunity, but it's his time tonight just as it is others.
The Pacers Jackson continues his Johnson impression but he can't stop Bryant as the young Kobe forces a fadeaway that looks like he is fouled but is nothing but net. Swaggering past Jack Nicholson (complete with moustache, what film was that for?) and rubbing his fingers together, it's clear this former big-game air-ball kid is all man and star now. Heeeeere's Kobe! As Bryant than finds Shaq for the basket and one (Shaq's making them free-throws tonight) L.A. are still down by one, but as Kobe points to Shaq with a 'you know what I'm thinking' stare, the two clearly are on the same page. The writings about to be inscribed on a trophy too.
To start the final chapter, Derek Fisher hits a big three and poses for his own L.J. 'L', with a sign of things to come. Kobe saves the ball from going out of bounds with some athletics, which lead to Shaq dropping a baby hook to keep up the pace with Indiana. On the bench A.C. Green loves it and this eighties darling knows that just like Kareem, Shaq's smaller hook is still unstoppable, line and sinker. Kobe drives into the paint and in some mid-air traffic, swoops the ball round to Shaq for the beautiful lay-in, followed by a hug. Now don't you just miss the days when the corvette and the brick wall stood side by side? These plays are what should be the thing of history and tonight they are.
Austin Croshere hits another three to take his tally to 14 and who can answer him? Robert Horry puts and end to that question like he did time-after-time, year after year to come with too many clutch three's for Indiana to deal with. Big shot Bob's in his favourite spot, on the right side of the basket. It's vintage Laker basketball and Shaq dives in for the lay-up off a Kobe miss, sacrificing his body and almost injuring himself as his big frame hits the deck. He only needs a minute though before he put back another missed shot and this time it's by our favourite assistant Brian Shaw, but it looks more like a ricochet pass. In this theatre of dreams the 'Shaw, Shaq Redemption' is playing tonight. All night.
Now how's this for some Hollywood from one of the Laker's biggest stage actors? Rick Fox is found in range and Reggie Miller steps back taunting and begging him to take the three, Fox obliges and puts it and Reggie in the hole. Magic Johnson hearts it and so does three-point man Rice who hugs and picks up Fox with adoration. You gotta love it. Indiana need to talk it over with a timeout, everyone in L.A. can't stop screaming. Dale Davis is still working the paint, spinning and dunking with passion and pride, him and his team are still in it until Kobe finds Shaq for a massive dunk (even for a guy like him) that almost rivals the iconic one against Davis' future team Portland from the Lakers series before this.
At this point Shaq has 36 and the Lakers are up by 7. Then a few minutes later Harper misses a dunk and Indy's Jalen Rose ties the game up with a three for their last crusade. A turn around jumper by Shaq takes it to 40 and the max as the Lakers just keep getting better. They have the power and Kobe crosses everything over as he hits how own Reggie dagger three, smoothly holding his hands up and sliding back to the bench, tapping his heart and the logo on the jersey. You know who it is.
The Indiana Pacers are still in it however to the end hacking at Shaq and bringing it to a matter of buckets with just minutes to go. Still from the exuberance of the crowd to the emphatic play of the Lakers it's always looked like L.A.'s game and championship tonight. As Miller throws up a desperation shot and the Lakers make their three throws it is. Kobe smiles with people on the bench while Larry Bird rubs his temple. Brian Shaw and Ron Harper embrace while Reggie Miller keeps his head down, the tempo has changed. Kool & The Gang are already celebrating and as the victory music plays it's time for everyone else to come on. The Lakers can feel it now as Kobe engages with the crowd and points to his ring finger. All that's left is fot the final buzzer to sound and for Kobe to run and leap into a tearful Shaq's arms for one of the most iconic images of the two players and this franchises history. GAME OVER!
After 13 years Reggie Miller can't get it done in the NBA Finals, but he deserves an award for his valiant play and playoff heroics as does brief but brilliant coach Larry Bird who is congratulated courtside by Nicholson. This is the Los Angeles Lakers time however and Magic Johnson and the city couldn't be more proud. A.C. Green, John Salley and Ron Harper have reached the promised land again, and it's only the beginning for Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher. L.A.'s two biggest stars shine the brightest however as Kobe humbly smiles and acknowledges everone's hard work while Shaq rips the monkey off his back, throws him out the building and cements his status as 'The Big Legendary' to a chorus of 'MVP's'. Shaq then closes things perfectly, infamously proclaiming and predicting, "we're gonna get one next year too" in a cast-iron Pat Riley declaration. Despite some riots outside this was the perfect evening as the Lakers lit up the city of angels. This inspirational, influential night goes down as one of the best days in NBA history.