This post is an update to this one I posted last year.
Another season in the books and another Laker championship. This 2010 team was a special one in many regards: they were primarily defense-first, they played through a ton of injuries, and they beat the Celtics (I’ve been waiting 23 years for that). Where do they rank among the eight championship teams I’ve seen?
8. 1988: The “guaranteed repeat” team…the first team to repeat as NBA champions in 19 years. The pressure on them must have been tremendous and they had to slug it out through three series that went the full seven games. They had just enough gas in the tank (and home court advantage) to beat an up-and-coming Bad Boys team. In addition to the difficulty they had in dispatching their playoff opponents, an aging Kareem knocks this team down a few notches from the earlier Showtime editions.
7. 2002: The last of the Shaq/Kobe titles. This team had done and seen everything together and endured a monster push from the Kings, winning a Game 7 in a hostile road environment (enabled by Horry’s famous Game 4 buzzer-beater). They won this one with experience, but the team wasn’t the beast that it once was. They swept in the Finals (the only one of Jackson’s 11 titles that ended with a sweep), but it was against a seriously outmanned Nets team.
6. 2009: Kobe’s first without Shaq. The 2009 team was extraordinarily deep and resilient, if inconsistent and undeservingly (prematurely?) arrogant. They learned and got better in each successive playoff series and won their last three elimination games — the last two on the road. For all their inconsistency and lackadaisical play, they made the big plays on offense and unleashed lock-down defense when they needed to…the hallmark of a champion. This championship was really two (four?) years in the making.
5. 2010: This year’s team kicked up the defense a couple notches from 2009, had a beautiful inside passing game, and displayed a will to win under duress unlike any I’ve seen in quite a while. In a long season of “take your best shot at the champs” games and injuries to key personnel (Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, Artest, and Odom all had injuries serious enough to keep them out for long stretches and/or significantly impact their play), these Lakers did just enough to beat an aging, but still-extraordinary Celtics team (essentially the defending champs from 2008). (Side note: the quality of the 2010 Celtics cannot be overstated; it’s the best team the Lakers have defeated in the Finals since the 80s.) This team had much to prove, both collectively and individually. It wasn’t always (or even often) pretty, but they always answered the call: 5-0 in elimination games — 3 on the road — says it all. They were even able to beat their opponents at their own games: outgunning the Suns and outgrinding the Celtics. It was a tough decision ranking this team above or below the 2000 Lakers. Despite the 2010 team’s ability to do whatever it takes, their injuries were enough for me to figure that 2000 Shaq would have been too much to handle…if only by a shade. If Bynum were healthy the whole season, I probably would’ve put this 2010 team at #4 — and maybe even #3. Something to look forward to next season…
4. 2000: The first Shaq/Kobe title, this team tore through the regular season on the back of Shaq’s greatest year. Things got a little dicey in the WC Finals and they lost a lot of elimination games, but this was a team of dazzling talent that was learning how to get it done. Footnote of history: A.C. Green got his final ring in 2000, becoming the only player to win a title with Magic and Shaq/Kobe.
3. 1985: The Celtic killers. My recollection of this team is a bit hazy (I was only 11 when they won), but these facts are clear: this was the first Laker team to beat the Celtics in the finals, the only road team to win a title at Boston Garden, and one of the greatest fastbreaking teams of all time. Great redemption after blowing the 1984 series in seven games (not to mention their previous eight failed attempts against the Celtics). Particularly special for me, since this was the first Laker title I saw with my own eyes.
2. 2001: The 15-1 team. This team was simply amazing, putting together a playoff run that might never be matched. With one title already under their belt, the 2001 Lakers were efficient and cold-blooded. It took them about one game (if that) to figure out how to beat their opponent — and they didn’t let up until they were done. The only team to go undefeated on the road in playoff history. And it should’ve been 15-0, but they were a bit rusty and probably underestimated the 76ers’ spunk and lost Game 1 in OT. Also, for all the fame Fish has gained for the 0.4 shot and the two big threes he drained against the Magic in Game 4 of the 2009 Finals, it was this playoff run that put Fish on the map. He missed the first 3/4 of the regular season (all the while developing dead-eye accuracy for his jumper), returned to inspire the Lakers to a 17-3 record in the last 20 games of the regular season, and went on to hit 51% of his 3-pointers in the playoffs…a vital piece of a team that dismantled all foes.
1. 1987: The greatest NBA team there ever was. Their fastbreak was ferocious and majestic, Kareem was still a force, and Magic finally became the scoring focal point of the team. The mid-season acquisition of Mychal Thompson (making the Lakers, I believe, the only team to have four #1 draft picks on their roster at the same time) is what put them over the top. They beat the Celtics for the second time in three years. While the Celtics were starting to break down from age and injury, they were still just one year removed from what many (erroneously) consider the greatest NBA team ever…and the Lakers won convincingly. Magic’s “junior, junior sky hook” over the Hallowed 3 at the Garden in Game 4 is still the greatest sports play I’ve ever seen.