Not the Champion
This is a special feature by guest blogger Christopher Sells.
It’s easy to forget that whenever a champion is crowned that there is a loser that retreats from the celebration, dejected and feeling that an entire season of blood, sweat and tears was for nothing. So as the Celtics remained on the court, triumphant and jubilant, the Lakers made their way back to the locker room, where there would be no champagne, no happiness and no escaping the feeling that accompanies a 40-point shellacking in the deciding game of the NBA Finals.
There was a feeling of inevitability that came with the Celtics victory. Not only had they held an insurmountable 3-1 lead, they’d outplayed the Lakers, even in their losses. There isn’t any doubt that the Celtics are the better team and that they deserve to raise the franchise’s 17th championship banner to the rafters, especially with their performance in Game Six, as their defense forced the Lakers to accept their fate.
So while much will be written of the Celtics’ Big Three and the journeys they’ve each taken to reach this point, something should be said for the team on the other sideline. The Lakers found out that they were not ready for this stage. The don’t have the toughness or the talent necessary to be the best. Not yet, at least. The team is young and they’ll make some moves and get Andrew Bynum back from injury. Phil Jackson will have to attempt to pass Red Auerbach for most championships at a later time. Kobe will undoubtedly remain hungry.
Ah, Kobe. Much was said before the series began about how this was his chance to prove that he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as the all-time greats. He’ll lie to you and tell you that he doesn’t wish to be compared with Jordan, that he only wants to be the best Kobe can be, but his entire career has seemingly been patterned after Jordan’s. From the head-to-head matchups in All-Star Games to the on-court mannerisms, many have speculated that Jordan has been Kobe’s measuring stick all along.
Observers have often reveled in his failures, his missteps and shortcomings. Basketball fans seem to have a love/hate relationship with the man, and those that fall into the hate category can go the extra mile, spewing hatred and venom, creating websites as a shrine to what he is not. His passion for the game is questioned, as is his leadership ability and his commitment to his teammates. For these people, the look on Kobe’s face as he left the court probably gave them sheer joy and made their hatefulness worthwhile.
So does this latest failure mean that Kobe can never achieve that ultimate level of greatness? Does it mean that Kobe will only be remembered as a championship sidekick instead of the straw that stirred the drink? Was this his best chance at becoming what many thought he could be: a truly talented player who struggled to find himself early in his career only to realize his greatness as he matured into one of the best to ever cradle a basketball?
These, and other thoughts, were probably on Kobe’s mind as he made that long walk from the court to the locker room, where he would take off his jersey for the last time this season and possibly for the last time in the Finals, defeated.