Thursday, June 12, 2008

Which One Is Your Favorite Lakers Team?

Now that the Lakers are firmly in the spotlight and the NBA finals are underway the comparison to the last champion Lakers team is turning up in conversations everywhere. How does the Kobe-Shaq champion team compare to the Kobe-Gasol team? How do the fans feel in the city of Los Angeles? I know fans outside of Los Angeles either love or hate the Lakers and have a completely different take. Being a lifelong fan, I can tell you that there is definitely a different feel to the current squad here in the hometown. Today's Lakers are a younger, grittier team than was the Kobe-Shaq combo. Not to say that it was bad - they did win three in a row! Ah, the parades on Figueroa...

At any rate, the Kobe-Shaq team became full of posturing and criticism as they progressed. Many of the die hards that I knew at the time (myself included) loved the combination of the two players as the jewels in the Lakers crown. In fact, many fans took the Shaq-Kobe conflicts as something the media has simply blown up. They didn't really have a grudge...did they?

When Shaq came to L.A. in the 1996-97 season there was reason to celebrate. Here was a popular player that could make an impact on the team and on the town. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about what a "great guy" he was because someone approached him for an autograph and he obliged. Shaq was always charming in public and played up to the fans. He was an exceptional fit for an exceptional team. Unfortunately, he suffered injuries throughout his first season and even missed his All-Star Game appearance because of it. Also in this year, Kobe Bryant came as a rookie with high expectations. He was especially cemented as a fan favorite after his performance at the Slam Dunk Contest. Los Angeles appeared to be on the road to another legendary team. The addition of Phil Jackson in 1999 only enhanced that prospect.

It took a bit for fans to really catch on to the turmoil - at least to those of us that were enamored by the titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002. It was good to be a Lakers fan. I remember the murals on the three buildings of the Hotel Figueroa near the Staples Center that had Kobe holding a trophy in each of these years. His giant grin was exuding confidence and satisfaction.

My memories of that team (selectively) end there. That last season in the three-peat was the one before the Shaq-Kobe thing got to the point that you realized it was more than simple media prodding. This was also the time before any off-court shenanigans tarnished the reputation of our star. I know of many who longingly remember those glory days, myself included.

Again, the 2008 Lakers have a younger feel that convinces you they'll reign supreme and do so for seasons to come. The complaints are gone and players are trying to assure they stay in the City of Angels. This is not the Kobe-Shaq Lakers or anything that remotely resembles it.

As for these finals, one colleague describes this current Lakers-Celtics rivalry as lackluster. These teams don’t “hate” each other the way the old rivals did. The Lakers today have more animosity toward the Spurs, Pistons, and Kings. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite excited about this 2008 team. I’ve followed the Lakers my entire life and could never imagine ditching them. Derek Fisher is the man (and hits those tight shots the way Nick Van Excel used to), Ronnie Turiaf is a party and a half (just watch him dance), Luke Walton can get things done (he better, it’s in his genes), and Jordan Farmar is nothing to ignore either. Yeah, these players all have a “streakiness” about them, so what. I still believe the Lakers have the strongest bench in the NBA. Sure the Celtics have The Three Amigos, but the Lakers have the whole package. I haven't even mentioned Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic, or Lamar Odom. They aren't exactly bad players.

For me, I miss the old days. Then again, I’m getting older and I’ve noticed those who are closer to college age prefer the new Lakers. What do you think? Which Lakers team do you pine for? Magic Johnson’s? The Kobe-Shaq three-peat? Are you happy with the 2008 Kobe team?


Lindsay said...

Well I am one of those people who hated the Kobe/Shaq team (it couldn't be because they were so good, could it?). I really like this new team. It's a totally different team now, and I'm glad you pointed that out.

Apryl DeLancey said...

I've heard the same from others for about the same reason! I guess I am just getting old and miss "the good old days"! I never though I'd see you use the word "like" in a sentence about the Lakers though!