Lakers-4, Magic-1 NBA Finals

Redemption came one year later as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic, 99-86 at Amway Arena to claim their 15th overall NBA Championship. After their bitter defeat to the Boston Celtics last year, the Lakers set out on a mission in training camp to reclaim the title and propel Los Angeles back to the top of the NBA. They did so in convincing fashion, beating a scrappy Orlando team on its home court, to take the best of seven Finals matchup, 4 games to 1. Kobe Bryant earned himself MVP honors by averaging 32.4 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists per game. Tonight, he had a typical, stellar Kobe performance, amassing 30 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocked shots.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Kobe, known for his ability to knock down difficult shots, tagged the Magic from start to finish, and along the way, got huge contributions from his teammates as well. Pau Gasol, (14 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocked shot), Trevor Ariza, (15 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals), Derek Fisher, (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists), and Lamar Odom, (17 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal), provided ample support in closing out the series in five games. Andrew Bynum, (6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal), again was limited in playing time due to foul trouble, but his aggressive play showed glimpses of his old self prior to his knee injury that had the Laker bench players bounding out of their seats.

Orlando, with their backs against the wall, came out firing and quickly took a 15-6 lead following a Rafer Alston layup. Hedo Turkoglu, (12 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal), and Rashard Lewis, (18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal), connected from the perimeter to help Orlando to its fast start. Kobe Bryant appeared to reinjure his ring finger on his shooting hand and as the cameras tried to zoom in on him, he was in obvious pain and discomfort. Los Angeles called time out to regroup and refocus and the City of Los Angeles held its collective breath as we waited for word on Kobe’s condition. But he trotted back out when play resumed and appeared to be alright. The Magic pushed the lead to 19-10 with just over five minutes to play in the 1st quarter, but Kobe responded with a 20-footer. The Lakers came to life from that point on, as Kobe hit again, this time from behind the arc to trim the lead to 19-15 in less than a minute. Alston, (12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), got loose for two 7-foot floaters in the lane to give Orlando a 23-17 edge, but a 9-5 run by the Lakers to close out the period had them trailing by only a basket, 28-26.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Orlando regained the momentum to start the 2nd quarter when Dwight Howard, (11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 blocked shots), made three consecutive baskets to open the stanza. Kobe answered with a driving dunk followed by a LO trey from 25-feet to pull the Lakers to within 38-36. After backup center, Marcin Gortat scored on a dunk off a Jameer Nelson feed, the Magic offense went ice cold. The Lakers proceeded to go on a 16-0 run to blow the game wide open. Gasol started the run with a block on a driving Hedo Turkoglu. D-Fish splashed a 25-foot three pointer followed by an Ariza 26-foot triple. A Kobe perimeter shot, then another trey by Ariza, followed by a D-Fish layup, and the Lakers were now up, 49-40. But the run wasn’t finished, as Ariza made 1 of 2 free throws and Lamar connected on a jumper to make it 52-40 with 3:06 left in the first half. The Lakers closed the first half with a comfortable 56-46 lead and Orlando heading to their locker room clearly shaken with their heads cast down.

Orlando tried to make a game of it, and after a Alston trey, the Magic managed to cut the lead to 58-53. But Lamar Odom knocks down a pair of identical corner three pointers, and the lead balloons back up to 64-53. Orlando calls time out, and coach Stan Van Gundy implores his team to keep fighting, but the Lakers smell blood and go in for the kill. Kobe hits a runner, Fisher connects from 18-feet, Pau hits a soft hook rolling to the left and Kobe adds a pair of free throws to make it, 73-57 with 2:55 left in the period. Orlando continues its offensive woes and clangs one shot after another. The Lakers defense exploits their prey and when Jordan Farmar nails a 14-foot jumper, the lead appears insurmountable, at 76-61 at the end of three.

Orlando’s last run comes at the opening of the 4th quarter as J.J. Redick and Nelson connect on consecutive three pointers. But the Lakers counter with a Kobe trey and another bucket by Ariza. Luke Walton gets into the scoring column on a driving layup to make it 87-70 with 5:30 left to play. The Magic fans begin to leave the arena as the Laker fans in attendance begin to get louder and louder. Lewis and Redick combine for 11 points in a span of just over two minutes to trim the lead back down to 95-84 at the 2-minute mark. But it’s not enough as the Magic are forced to foul and the Lakers connect on their free throw attempts down the stretch. Fisher’s free throws with 0:36 seconds left to play seals the final margin of victory and as the clock ticks down to zero, smiles and jubilation erupt from the Laker bench. Kobe leaps into the air, pumping his fist and is mobbed by his teammates. Championship caps and t-shirts are distributed among the players as coaching staff and players alike celebrate title number 15 on the Magic’s court.

dEDGE Post Scriptum

MVP! MVP! MVP! chants ring through Amway Arena as David Stern and Hall-of-Famer, Bill Russell, award the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy to Kobe Bryant. Kobe lofts the trophy over his head in one hand as he carefully keeps tab over his youngest daughter and feels for her with his other hand. He shares the trophy with his family allowing them to rub and touch the gleaming globe. And he thanks his supporters, his teammates and coaching staff and makes the most important assist of the night. He credits all around him for his success. Selfish, uncoachable, ball-hog, temperamental. All knocks on Kobe Bryant the All-Star, the teammate, and the man. And he has proven all his naysayers wrong, proof in the form of one, Larry O’Brien championship trophy and soon to be unveiled, Lakers championship banner to be displayed proudly next to the previous 14 titles.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Kobe accomplished what most said he was incapable of doing. He distributed the ball to his open teammates. He directed a young squad as their leader, down a difficult and oftentimes grueling path to the ultimate reward. He prodded, pulled, encouraged and yelled, all in a positive manner to ensure the opportunity to compete for an NBA title. And when they arrived at the largest stage, he didn’t let them slip from the heavy expectations, but instead, allowed them to shine in their own personal glory. Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, and even Andrew Bynum just became World Champions for the first time. For Kobe and Derek Fisher, this is title number 4, and perhaps their greatest to date. They did it as they learned from prior experiences. This time, they were the seasoned veterans that the team leaned upon. This time, they were the inspirational voices that brought them closer together during periods of uncertainty and difficulty. And this time, they did it alone and won.

The smiles on the faces of former Laker greats are beaming and full of pride today. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, AC Green, Ron Harper, Michael Cooper, all were talented players in their own right. But they sacrificed their play for the betterment of the team. And they were rewarded with multiple championship rings and will be forever remembered for their contributions to the purple and gold  banners that hang within Staples Center. So too will the names of this squad be remembered for its accomplishments and clutch plays in this incredible run. And for those who played alongside a young, brash, talented and solitary figure in Kobe Bryant, they too are smiling and nodding their heads in approval of his transformation into a savvy and grizzled veteran. Kobe’s career statistics speak for themselves. Now too, will his legacy. He has escaped the shadows of Shaquille O’Neal, and has emerged the clear winner and heart and soul for this Lakers organization. He now has the crown to compliment his personal records, and the adulation of an entire NBA fanbase. Today is just the dawn of a new Kobe Bryant era. The window of opportunity is wide open and the breeze feels good in Lakerland.

Posted in Los Angeles Lakers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lakers-3, Magic-1 NBA Finals

Stealing a victory from out of the jaws of defeat, the Los Angeles Lakers stunned the Orlando Magic in overtime, 99-91 at Amway Arena. Derek Fisher drilled a three pointer with 4.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. He bettered that big shot by draining another trey at the top of the key in the overtime session to put the Lakers ahead, 94-91 to seal the deal. D-Fish, (12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals), had an ear-to-ear grin as Orlando was forced to call time out and the Lakers bench mobbed their veteran leader. “It ranks right up there at the top,” he said. “You know, even greater than 0.4 because I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is.”

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Fish’s game ending heroics should not have been possible based on how the Lakers played in the first half. Orlando blitzed then early and the Magic looked like the hungrier, deeper team. The Lakers managed a brief 8-7 lead after an Odom layup, but the Magic never looked back from that point on as they moved the ball fluidly on offense and denied the ball to the Lakers down inside. Dwight Howard, (16 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists, 9 blocked shots), was a force in the middle, swatting away everything in sight. Andrew Bynum, (6 points, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls), again found himself on the bench early, picking up his second personal foul after less than 4 minutes into the game. Pau Gasol, (16 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), picked up his second foul with 3:44 left in the period and Lamar Odom, (9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist), followed him with his second foul a minute later. The Lakers found themselves with all of their big men on the bench. Kobe Bryant, (32 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), put the team on his back and carried them, scoring 13 of their 20 points in the quarter. Unfortunately, he got little help from anyone else, and the Magic took a 24-20 lead after one.

Orlando came out swinging in the 2nd period behind Jameer Nelson, (2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists), J.J. Redick, (6 points, 3 assists), and Hedo Turkoglu, (25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal). And when Rashard Lewis, (6 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), hit a three pointer, the Magic found themselves with a 37-27 lead. The Lakers appeared out of sorts and were in a constant dialogue with the referees. Pau Gasol scored on a 9-foot hook shot in the lane to pull the Lakers within 8 points, but Odom picked up his third foul with 5:52 left in the quarter. Bynum re-entered the game for Odom and scored on a hook shot in the key, but the Magic increased their lead to 43-31 behind a Marcin Gortat, (4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 blocked shot), jam off a pretty feed from Redick, a Turkoglu layup and a technical foul free throw by Redick assessed to Phil Jackson. A Gasol free throw and a 26-foot trey by Kobe narrowed the lead back down to 43-35, but the Magic used a 6-2 run to end the quarter to give them their largest lead of the series at 12 points, 49-37. The Magic fans rose in unison as the horn sounded and the Lakers limped off the court as they continued to jaw with the officials.

Fisher opened the 3rd quarter with a 21-foot jumper, but Howard countered with a thunderous slam to give Orlando a 51-39 lead. But the Magic went ice cold and the Lakers capitalized from that point forward. Trevor Ariza, (16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), picked off an errant pass from Howard and rode it in for a dunk. Kobe splashed a three pointer followed by an Ariza 10-footer to make it 52-46. Turkoglu connected on a 17-footer, but Ariza dropped a pair of treys and converted 1-2 free throws to bring the Lakers within 54-53. Bynum’s free throws at the 5:58 mark, gave the Lakers their first lead since early in the 1st quarter at 55-54. After Rafer Alston, (11 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal), hit a basket, Bynum got loose for a 11-footer in the paint to regain the lead. But Bynum would pick up another foul on the ensuing play and had to head back to the bench. Odom drained a three pointer to give the Lakers a 61-58 lead, but Redick answered with a trey of his own to knot the score again. The Lakers ended the quarter with a 6-2 run to lead after three, 67-63.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Lamar scored on the Lakers first possession to give them a 6 point cushion, but he picked up his 4th and 5th fouls shortly thereafter. Turkoglu, fouled on a three point attempt, converted only 1-3 free throws and the Lakers clung to their lead after Luke Walton, (6 points, 2 rebounds), scored on a post-up move on Nelson. Mikael Pietrus, (15 points, 2 rebounds), hit a three pointer to cut the lead in half, 73-70. Kobe followed with a 21-footer, but free throws by Pietrus, Howard, then a Pietrus fast break layup and one, gave the lead back to Orlando, 76-75 with 5:37 left in the contest. A Gasol 6-footer and a pull up by Kobe gave the lead back to the Lakers, but Howard countered with another monster jam to bring them back within a point, 79-78. Turkoglu would tie up the score on 1-2 free throws, then Orlando took the lead on a beautiful spin move by Howard plus the foul. Howard’s free throw gave Orlando a 82-79 lead with just over 3-minutes to play. Ariza hit a big three from 28-feet with the shot clock running out, but Turkoglu responded with a fall away 25-footer with 2:11 left in the game. Howard blocked a left handed hook shot by Gasol and the Magic raced down the court to set up their offense. The Magic whipped the ball around the perimeter, and Turkoglu was able to fend off Ariza with his off hand and lofted a 11-foot runner to give Orlando a commanding 87-82 lead. The Lakers called time out and the Magic fans were delirious at the thought to tying up the series at 2 games apiece.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

But the celebration didn’t last long as Gasol scored on an easy dunk and Howard was fouled hard by Kobe at the other end. Howard shanked both free throws and the Lakers called another time out to set up the final play with :11 seconds left in regulation. The Magic trapped Kobe in the backcourt and he was forced to pass ahead to Ariza. Ariza then found Fisher alone on the opposite side of the court and quickly fired the ball to him. Fish then dribbled up court, apparently waiting for either Kobe or Ariza to find their spots on the wing, but Nelson continued to back-peddle leaving Fisher wide open for his game tying three pointer. Orlando had one last shot in regulation, but no one wanted the ball. Pietrus found himself with the ball in his hands and all of his teammates running away from him. He was forced to take a hurried jumper that never had a chance of going in, and the Lakers saw new light with a 5-minute extra period.

Lewis nailed his second three pointer of the night for his total output of 6 points to give the Magic a 90-87 lead. But Kobe responded with a pair of calculated midrange jumpers to give the Lakers the lead at 91-90. Either good defense or poor officiating dominated the next 2 minutes as neither team could score. Howard’s 1-2 free throws with 1:27 left tied the game at 91-91. But that would be the last time that Orlando would register a point on the scoreboard. Kobe dribbled down into the low post, allowed the double team to come to him, and passed out to the wide open D-Fish, who splashed the 27-footer and ripped the hearts out of the Magic in one fell swoop. Orlando called time out while the Lakers celebrated around Fish. Turkoglu got off an ugly three point attempt, and the ball got batted out to midcourt where Gasol picked it up in stride and rushed in for a uncontested slam dunk. Turkoglu missed another trey attempt and the Lakers played “keep-away” as they passed the ball upcourt. Fisher found Gasol all alone under the basket, and he calmly dropped in another dunk as Pietrus came rushing from behind with a two-handed shove into Gasol’s back. Both players jawed at one another and picked up technical fouls while Pietrus was also assessed a flagrant 1 foul. Pau’s 1-2 free throws provided the final margin of victory at 99-91.

The Magic lost the game at the free throw line, shooting a horrible 22-37 for 59.5%. The Lakers converted 15-20 for 75% and only lost on the boards, 41-39. The Lakers forced the Magic into 17 turnovers (7 by Howard), to only 7 of their own. Lewis’ poor shooting night (2-10), coupled with Howard’s poor showing at the line (6-14), allowed the Lakers to hang around. Trevor’s big 3rd quarter (13 points), helped the Lakers in their 18-5 run to regain momentum after being down by 12-points at halftime. But it was the oldest guy on the court that was the hero of the game. While Fisher was cold for three quarters, (0-5 from behind the arc), he was diving for loose balls, taking hard fouls on Howard to prevent easy dunks, and playing good defense on both Alston and Nelson. His smile said it all… not only were his teammates happy for him, he was happy for himself as well.

dEDGE Post Scriptum

D-Fish. Enough said.

Posted in Los Angeles Lakers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Magic-1, Lakers-2 NBA Finals

Blistering the nets for 75% in the first half, and 63% for the game to set a new Finals record, the Orlando Magic withstood a furious rally in the 4th quarter and handed the Los Angeles Lakers a 108-104 loss at Amway Arena. The Magic offense finally found its range and torched the Lakers in the second quarter when they shot 81%. Led by Rashard Lewis, (21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), and Dwight Howard, (21 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, 1 steal), the Magic also got key contributions from Rafer Alston, (20 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds), Hedo Turkoglu, (18 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal), and reserve player Mickael Pietrus, (18 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals), who had a key steal off of Kobe Bryant late in the game to secure the victory. The typically unflappable Bryant, (31 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds), tried to split the double team off a high pick and roll, only to have Howard poke the ball free. Pau Gasol dove on the floor and regained possession of the ball and passed it out to a fumbling Bryant, who was then forced to foul Pietrus with the Lakers trailing the Magic 104-102 with just over :16 seconds left to play.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

The Lakers came out focused in the 1st quarter and each time the Magic tried to take the game away, they fought back and managed to maintain their lead. Kobe started quiet but over the last 5:17 of the period amassed 17 points to give the Lakers a 31-27 advantage at the end of one. Kobe even converted a 4-point play, faking Pietrus into jumping on a pump-fake, then absorbing the hit and nailing a three pointer. But the Magic persevered and behind Rafer Alston, whom to this point in the series had struggled with his shot, began forcing the issue and reverted to his “Skip-to-my-Lou” persona. After he hit his first outside shot, he grew more and more confident. He attacked the basket and had Derek Fisher on his heels as he converted on acrobatic shots close to the hoop. The home setting also did wonders for Turkoglu as he connected on off balance fade-aways with Laker defenders flailing in his face. That the Lakers had the lead after the 1st quarter was a surprise in itself as missed opportunities at the charity stripe would plague them throughout the game.

The Magic made an incredible 81% of their shots in the 2nd quarter even though they weren’t hitting their three point attempts. For the game, they shot a manageable 5-14 from behind the arc for 35.7%. But their perimeter game was unstoppable and the Magic continued to hit every mid-range shot they took. Lewis got untracked and was able to keep the Lakers at bay as the hometown crowd finally had something to cheer about. Gasol, (23 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocked shots), tried to keep the Lakers close, but Alston and Howard were able to penetrate deep into the paint for easy buckets. Lamar Odom, (11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 teal, 1 blocked shot), and Andrew Bynum, (4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), could not counter on the offensive end and had their hands full, trying to keep Howard from establishing deep position. Kobe cooled considerably but Jordan Farmar, (11 points, 3 rebounds), off the bench kept the Lakers within striking distance. The Lakers ended the first half trailing only 59-54 even though Orlando had shattered the Finals field goal percentage for a half.

The 3rd period opened with the teams trading baskets. Orlando managed to push the lead to 8-points, but the Lakers fought back behind treys by Kobe and Trevor Ariza, (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist). Missed free throws continued to be an issue as the Lakers converted on 1-2 on almost every attempt. Kobe shot an uncharacteristic 5-10 from the line, Odom was 3-5 and Ariza was 1-2. Howard, the much improved free throw shooter in the playoffs, connected on 11-16 and the Magic as a team converted 23-30 for 76.7%. The Lakers shot a miserable 16-26 for 61.5%. But even as the Lakers were unable to regain the lead, they managed to stay in the game by chipping away point by point. The 3rd quarter ended with the Magic holding onto a 81-75 lead.

The 4th quarter saw Odom attacking the basket and scoring on post up moves on Lewis. A trey by Ariza and a basket by Farmar narrowed the Magic lead as the sell-out crowd began to get nervous. Orlando got key baskets from Turkoglu and maintained a 5-point advantage. Kobe, who sat the first 4:47 of the period, re-entered the contest and the Lakers made their last push. Gasol converted on a pair of free throws to knot the score at 99-99 with 2:41 left in the contest. The Lakers had the Magic scrambling on offense and after a long heave by Lewis, Pietrus cut through traffic to jam in the offensive rebound. The Lakers pleaded for offensive interference to no avail. The Lakers got another pair of free throws from Gasol, but Lewis connected on a long bucket with his toe on the line to give Orlando a 104-101 lead. Kobe was fouled on a drive to the basket by Howard, but only converted on 1 of 2 free throws. The Lakers forced the Magic into a poor shot by Lewis, who shot the ball off the side of the backboard, then tipped it out of bounds. The Lakers called time out to set-up the play for Bryant, only to see him lose the ball to Pietrus. After Pietrus’ two free throws made the score 106-102, the Lakers still had an opportunity to close the gap, but Kobe’s three point attempt went wide right. Ariza was able to get off another trey attempt, then another offensive rebound by the Lakers afforded Derek Fisher, (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal), a chance, but his shot caromed high off the backboard. Kobe grabbed the offensive rebound and put in a layup with :005 seconds left. Kobe immediately fouled Lewis on the inbounds play, but the Lakers were left with only :002 left in the game. Lewis converted his two free throws for the final margin of victory.

dEDGE Post Scriptum

Missed freebies from the line did in the Lakers. This loss wasn’t from a lack of effort, or poor energy. When a team is shooting as well as the Magic did, every missed opportunity is magnified. The best closer in the league just couldn’t get it done tonight. Phil Jackson mused when asked of Bryant’s difficulties from the line, “We’re all frail as humans, sometimes not as much as others.” Nerves of steel, cold-blooded, and the eyes of an assassin could not help Kobe at the line. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go down. Sure, it would have been a stranglehold on the Magic had we escaped with a win tonight. But now we look forward to Game 4 on Thursday, and Game 5 on Sunday. We took Orlando’s best shot tonight and we still had a chance to win with :16 seconds to play. Orlando got the game that they needed to have and quite possibly have regained some of their lost confidence. But if I’m the Magic, I wouldn’t be celebrating too much. Kobe’s off night at the free throw line should not happen again in the series. The only people who benefitted from his 5-10 shooting from the line, are those brave enough, or drunk enough to have wagered on this line in Las Vegas. It’s a stupid bet, but hey, sometimes someone splits tens in Blackjack as well. To those few, I salute your fortunes. To those who would like to place that same wager in Game 4, show me the money.

Posted in Los Angeles Lakers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lakers-2, Magic-0 NBA Finals

Coming up big in overtime, the Los Angeles Lakers took a 2-0 Finals lead at Staples Center with a 101-96 victory over the Orlando Magic. The Magic actually had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a lob pass to rookie Courtney Lee with .006 seconds left fell harmlessly off the basket as the horn sounded. The Lakers escaped to overtime, where they got huge plays from Pau Gasol, (24 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot), Lamar Odom, (19 points on 8-9, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocked shots), and Derek Fisher, (12 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 rebound). Kobe Bryant, (29 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 turnovers), led the Lakers in a game that resembled a pre-season tune-up rather than Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Both teams started off slowly on offense, failing to capitalize on numerous turnovers and miscues. Orlando came out much more aggressive after their poor showing in their Game 1 blowout loss, and this helped them keep pace, however ragged and slow, with the favored Lakers. Trevor Ariza, (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists), managed to sink a trey followed by a Gasol 7-footer in the lane to give the Lakers a brief 5-3 lead. Hedo Turkoglu, (22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), countered with a three pointer of his own, and the snail race was on. Andrew Bynum, (5 points, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, 1 rebound), picked up two quick fouls trying to deny Dwight Howard, (17 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocked shots, 7 turnovers), in the post. LO came off the bench and payed immediate dividends, connecting on a layup off a Gasol feed and sinking a 20-foot jumper for a 13-12 lead with 2:36 left in the 1st quarter. Howard made 1-2 free throws followed by a layup after he pinned Gasol down low in the block. Fisher’s 20-foot jumper tied the score at 15-15 to end the low scoring 1st period.

Rashard Lewis, (34 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal), heated up in the 2nd quarter and carried the Magic offense. He accounted for 18 of Orlando’s 20 points in the stanza. Jordan Farmar, (4 points, 1 rebound), hit a pair of jumpers and Bynum converted on a three point play, then followed it up with a 11-foot hook shot in the key after freezing Howard with a “shake and bake” move. But Lewis continued his hot shooting and nailed a three pointer to knot the score at 26-26 with 6:22 left in the first half. Ariza, Fisher and Kobe all hit three pointers, but Lewis countered with three treys of his own. Pau hit a 16-footer while facing up on Howard, then scored on a dunk off a Kobe feed to give the Lakers a 5-point cushion at the end of the half, 40-35. Lewis hit 4-6 from behind the arc in the period and single handedly kept Orlando in the game.

Orlando sprinted out on a 12-6 run to open the 3rd quarter as Turkoglu began to find his rhythm to give them a brief 47-46 lead. A 12-footer by Gasol and a driving layup by Ariza pushed the Lakers back in front, but Howard got his first monster slam of the series off a fast break feed from Lewis. Turkoglu splashed a long trey to tie the score at 54-54 with 3:50 remaining. A pair of Jameer Nelson, (4 points in 17 minutes, 1 assist), free throws gave the lead back to Orlando, but Gasol tied it back up with two free throws himself. Hedo hit another three pointer giving the Magic a 59-56 advantage but Odom came back with a jumper to bring the Lakers back to within a point. Baskets by Howard and Nelson gave Orlando a 3-point lead at 63-60, but Fisher’s deep trey of his own tied it back up. Turkoglu scored on a 16-footer and Kobe’s long three point attempt missed wide as time ran out with Orlando holding a 65-63 lead after three quarters of play. Turkoglu accounted for 17 points in the period and Orlando had gained back the swagger that catapulted them to key road wins against both Cleveland and Boston.

The Lakers opened the 4th quarter on a 12-8 run to regain the lead and retake the momentum from the Magic. But the Magic dug deep and found the fortitude to keep coming back. Free throws by Howard, Lewis, and another trey from Turkoglu allowed the Magic to reclaim the lead at 81-79 with 4:13 remaining in regulation. The Staples Center crowd grew antsy as the Lakers staggered down the stretch. 5-6 free throws by Kobe gave the Lakers some measure of relief putting them ahead, 84-81 with 2:40 left. But J.J. Redick, (5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), found himself all alone in the corner and nailed a three pointer to tie the score. Lewis hit a shot in the key, but Kobe countered with a 11-footer of his own to keep the Lakers even with the Magic. Turkoglu made a difficult 23-footer with his pinky toe on the line with :43 seconds left, for an 88-86 Orlando advantage forcing the Lakers to call time out to set up a play. Gasol made a layup off a Fisher feed to tie the score and Orlando came back on the attack but missed an opportunity to take the lead when Lee missed a layup. Odom secured the rebound and the Lakers called a 20-second timeout to set up the game winning play. Kobe was trapped in the backcourt and the ball was inbounded to Odom. He managed to get the ball back into Kobe’s hands as the crowd rose to their feet. Kobe blew by Turkoglu and found himself confronted by Orlando’s collapsing defense. Kobe pulled up for a fade away 12-footer, but Turkoglu had managed to trail the play and cleanly blocked the shot from behind. Orlando got possession of the ball with :006 seconds left on the clock which resulted in Lee’s miss at the buzzer.

Relief showed on their faces from their good fortune, and the Lakers started the overtime period with a pair of Gasol free throws to give them a 90-88 lead. But Howard got loose under the basket and Kobe tried to wrap him up only to commit the “and-1” foul. Howard sank the free throw and the Magic took a 91-90 lead. Kobe hit a baseline 11-footer over Turkoglu to regain the lead at 92-91, then Redick threw an ill advised pass through traffic which D-Fish picked off. Fisher sprinted downcourt and drew the foul on Turkoglu and sank his pair of free throws for an 94-91 lead with 1:53 left in the overtime session. Turkoglu missed a jumper and the Lakers claimed the rebound. Kobe drove the lane, was triple teamed and found a wide open Gasol under the hoop for a left handed layup and the foul. Gasol sank the free throw and the Lakers had survived their first close call of the series. The Lakers converted on all 9 of their free throw attempts in the extra period and outscored the Magic, 13-8 for the 5-point victory. The Lakers were out-rebounded in the game, 44-35, but committed just 12 turnovers to the Magic’s 20. They also recorded 12 steals, shot 46.2% and 85.7% (24-28) from the line. Orlando managed only 41.8% and 74.1% (20-27) on their free throw attempts.

dEDGE Post Scriptum

Whew! This was a close one. I knew Orlando would come out more focused than their disastrous performance in Game 1. But the Magic continued to play sloppy ball at key moments in the game. Dwight Howard was again confronted with two- and three- defenders collapsing on him in the paint. He was forced to kick the ball back out, and oftentimes threw the ball away to the Laker guards who skillfully played the passing lanes. This win would not have been possible last season. The Lakers played smart down the stretch and took care of the ball. The poor shooting by both squads evened themselves out and this game was determined by the Lakers defensive prowess to Orlando’s presence in the post. Fisher was particularly adept at stripping the ball from Howard and Ariza showed his value yet again, denying Howard post position on the switch, then poking the ball free for a steal after Howard thought that he had his man sealed.

Lamar Odom played equally well, contesting Howard in the paint and providing Pau Gasol with some much needed assistance. This game had all the makings of a disappointing loss, yet the Lakers managed to eke out the overtime win. I’m sure Magic fans will want to call for basket interference by Gasol on the Courtney Lee miss at the buzzer, but Howard clearly got away with one early in the game when he blocked Pau’s shot by sticking his hand through the basket. The game was plagued by tight calls throughout the contest. Neither team was ever able to find their offensive groove with a number of ticky-tack moving screen violations called. However tight the officiating was, neither team gained an advantage from the whistles. But the Lakers executed when they needed to, and Orlando’s turnovers finally did them in. J.J. Redick’s turnover in the overtime period was the turning point in the game and D-Fish took full advantage of the miscue. He barreled into the chest of Turkoglu, forcing the foul and the trip to the free throw line.

If the Lakers continue to box in Howard in the paint, they should do well on the road. For however powerful and mighty he is, Superman has been but a mere mortal in this series. Until he is able to develop a go-to post move, the Lakers will continue to crowd him and force him to be a passer instead. Howard led the league in dunks this season. He has recorded one dunk in 8 quarters of play and has been challenged on every single move to the basket. The Lakers strength remains their ability to pick off errant passes off the double team. Odom, Ariza and Fisher have played this role to perfection. And with Kobe allowed to roam as a free safety, either the Magic’s guards or their three point threats in Lewis and Turkoglu, need to cut to the basket to make the Lakers pay. But they’ve been content to sit behind the arc and wait for the action to come to them rather than initiate it on their own.

The determination and will of the Lakers is evident in the serious tone of the starters and through the support of their bench. I can’t recall the last time I saw Adam Morrison urging his teammates on and wanting to be a part of the team. Even Andrew Bynum was standing and showing his resolute support and encouragement. The ring’s the thing, and the Lakers are close. Has this team finally matured to be worthy as champions that we had all hoped they could be? Has Kobe finally gotten through to his teammates that together they can accomplish anything? And is Phil Jackson, again on the brink of passing Red Auerbach, finally due to get his 10th ring to firmly plant his legacy as one of the greatest coaches of all time? Stay tuned for Game 3 on Tuesday Laker fans. Same Laker time. Same Laker channel.

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Lakers-1, Magic-0 NBA Finals

After patiently waiting over a week for the 2009 NBA Finals to finally commence, the Los Angeles Lakers crushed the Orlando Magic at Staples Center, 100-75. Both teams came out rather tentative to start the contest, missing easy shots and hesitating to attack on offense. Andrew Bynum, (9 points, 9 rebounds, 1 blocked shot), started well, scoring on a dunk and a 12-footer to begin the game. He went on to score 8 points in the quarter before picking up his second foul of the period with 3:14 left in the first. Derek Fisher, (9 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist), also got untracked as he got uncontested looks from the perimeter. His defense on Rafer Alston, (6 points on 2-9, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), was particularly effective as he forced the speedy point guard out of the lane and made him settle for rushed, outside shots. Kobe Bryant, (40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots), dominated the Magic, scoring at will and punishing both Courtney Lee, (7 points on 3-10, 1 rebound, 1 steal), and Mickael Pietrus, (14 points on 5-13, 5 rebounds), in the process. Orlando shot a horrible 29.9% for the game.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

Photo by Newscom. ©2009 All rights reserved.

The first quarter closed with Orlando holding onto a slim, 24-22 lead, thanks in part to a somewhat rusty offensive attack by the Lakers. But they put all doubt aside in the second period, outscoring the Magic, 31-19 to take a ten point halftime lead. Kobe carried the squad in the period as he went into Mamba-mode, slicing and dicing the Magic’s defense. Kobe poured in 12 points in the period and along with Lamar Odom, (11 points, 14 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), exploited the lax Magic defense time after time. Dwight Howard, (12 points on 1-6, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots), never got untracked as the Lakers double- and triple-teamed him each time he managed to get the ball in the post. Pau Gasol, (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots), played Howard well, moving his feet and not allowing Superman to plant himself in the lane. Luke Walton, (9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal), had an effective quarter as well, posting up the smaller Magic defenders deep in the paint. Pietrus hit a three pointer to draw the Magic to within 43-39 with 3:09 left in the half, but the Lakers responded with a 10-4 run, capped off by a Kobe driving layup high off the glass with :04 seconds remaining to give them a 53-43 cushion. Jameer Nelson, (6 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds), made his long awaited debut and provided a brief spark in the 2nd quarter after spending the past 4 months on the disabled list following shoulder surgery. But even his presence couldn’t lift the Magic out of their worst shooting performance of the playoffs.

The Lakers erased any doubts that may have lingered from the earlier rounds when they were accused of not possessing a killer instinct. They immediately pounced on the Magic and quickly extended the lead to 68-50 as Kobe and Gasol accounted for 13 of 15 of the Lakers points to that juncture. The Magic called time-out to regroup, but all coach Stan Van Gundy could do was to implore his team to fight on. Tonight they had no answers to stop the Lakers, and more singularly, to slow down Kobe Bryant. Kobe scored 18 points in the period and the game quickly vanished from sight for the Magic. He scored on an assortment of vintage Kobe shots, post-up moves into the paint, pull-up jumpers into the teeth of the defense, and on one amazing possession, froze Pietrus with a cross-over, stepped through the double-team, and double pumped a bank shot hard off the backboard while drawing the foul. The chants of “MVP” soon rained down as Kobe stepped to the line and calmly dropped the “and one.” The Magic never recovered from the Lakers onslaught. But for however dominant the Lakers appeared on offense, it was their defense that won the game for them. They continually pushed the Magic out of their comfort zone behind the arc, and forced them to make the extra pass. The Lakers scrambled and switched often, never allowing the Magic a chance to catch their breath and make a run. After starting off 3-5 in the first quarter, Hedo Turkoglu, (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), never hit a basket again, missing all 7 of his shot attempts the rest of the way. Trevor Ariza, (3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 blocked shot), hounded Turkoglu off of his sweet spot and forced him to the baseline, where he was ineffective and coughed up 4 turnovers. The Lakers finished the 3rd quarter with a commanding 82-58 lead and the Magic heading to their bench, dazed and wobbly.

The Magic never threatened in the 4th quarter, although they tried to salvage their poor shooting night. Van Gundy inserted his bench players in an effort to jump start his squad, but that never manifested as the Lakers methodically erased any hope by starting the period with a 7-4 run to push the lead to 89-62 with 8:26 left in the game. The Lakers went scoreless for a stretch of 4:13, but the Magic could only manage to chip off 3 points in that same span of time. Kobe reentered the game and converted on a pair of free throws, then hit a 10-footer for his 40th point of the night to give them a 97-73 lead with just under two minutes to play. Orlando called time out and both teams cleared their benches as the Magic raised the white flag in Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals. The Lakers and Magic face off again in Game 2 on Sunday night, then head to Orlando for the next three games. Rashard Lewis, (8 points on 2-10, 5 rebounds), Turkoglu and Alston failed to provide the Magic with the same punch that they delivered against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando was out-rebounded, 55-41, and dished off for only 10 assists, although they managed to convert 21-29 free throws for 72.4%. The Lakers shot 46.1% from the field, converted 15-18 free throws for 83.3%, committed only 8 turnovers, and limited the Magic to 8-23 from outside the arc. 

 

dEDGE Post Scriptum

This is it folks. These 2009 NBA Finals brings us full circle from a disappointing experience a year ago. Enjoy it while it lasts, because as we all know, these trips can prove to be elusive and infrequent. But hey, wait a minute you might say… “We’re the Lakers and we’re supposed to be here every year.” OK, so we’re a little spoiled and have been to the NBA Finals six times now in the new millennium. (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009) If we had taken care of business in 2004 against the Detroit Pistons, we might be talking Team of the Decade all over again. But even with the Hall-of-Fame line-up consisting of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Devean George(!?!), it just wasn’t meant to be and the team soon imploded before Mitch Kupchak could even conclude his exit interviews. Fast forward to today and the emotions that we’ve endured, including the pain, (Shaq leaving), the anger, (Kobe demanding a trade), the make-up period, (Andrew Bynum before last season’s ending knee injury), the honeymoon, (Pau Gasol coming to the Lakers), and then the disappointment, (losing to Boston), and this has the makings of a feature length mockumentary. 

Even this season has had its share of drama, starting with the off-season elation, (Kobe bringing home the gold), the malaise, (Bynum’s slow return), the expectations, (the Bench Mob), playing as the favorite, (winning consistently but not impressively), the feeling of inadequacy, (Lamar, Fisher, Farmar, Bynum, Gasol), the outrage, (losing to the Yao-less Houston Rockets), the redemption, (closing out Denver), to where we stand now, on the verge of securing title #15. Kobe had his warrior face on tonight. ABC announcer and brother of Stan, Jeff Van Gundy, summed it up best, commenting on Kobe’s teeth baring expressions, “Wow! He looks mean.” The Lakers punished Orlando tonight and perhaps some of the credit can be accounted to opening night jitters for the Magic. But the Lakers team defense was spectacular even while the offense relied mostly on Kobe’s spectacular play. Expect the Magic to come out much better prepared for Game 2 on Sunday. And be prepared for them to even start making their three point attempts. But if we can get the same type of defensive energy that was displayed tonight, the Magic look to be in a 2-0 hole before they embark on their long trip home, back to the Magic Kingdom.

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Western Conference Final Observations

dEDGE Post Scriptum

The Los Angeles Lakers embark on their quest for a 15th NBA championship in a Finals series showdown against the surprising Orlando Magic. But before we turn all attention towards this marquee match-up, let’s spend a few minutes reliving and relishing in our Western Conference Finals victory over the Denver Nuggets with these final observations. 

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Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Tyrese, and his pro-Lakers alteration to the national anthem. Former Laker fan favorite, Coby Karl, aka, the Spy. Coach George Karl = Ghostbuster Bill Murray. East Coast represented in the house with Spike Lee sporting his NYC gear. Dick Van Dyke crooning the Star Spangled Banner. Courtside seats full of Laker fans: Tom Cruise. Denzel Washington. John Lithgow. Justin Timberlake. Charlie Sheen. Drew Barrymore. David Arquette. Leonardo DiCaprio. Penny Marshall. Anthony Kiedis. Flea. Will Ferrell. Junior Seau. Russell Martin. And Jack in proper purple attire. Courtside seats full of posers: Teri Hatcher. Ellen Pompeo. Norv Turner. Bill Russell. Pat O’Brien. Michael Eisner. Guy Ritchie. Ron Artest. 

Denver’s mascot, Rocky, needs a tranquilizer dart. Those damn KIA hamsters. Kobe passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Lakers all-time playoff scoring list. The Lakers Band firing up the crowd with the theme from “Rocky.” LO leading the pregame shuffle. JR’s gangsta strut. Dahntay Jones’ flagrant trip on Kobe. Melo in the zone. Sasha building a house. Our own Birdman, ostrich lookalike, Pau Gasol. ESPN commentator, Mark Jackson uttering, “It’s Memorial Day, but the bank is open for Mr. Bryant.” Lamar’s grapefruit on his back. Candy anyone? Shannon Brown’s monster jam over Birdman. 

Laker flags in full force. Denver fans standing until their team scores a basket, then sitting down when they make a free throw. Tube tops must be back in fashion in Denver. That snake hat dude is everywhere! John Elway sure looks old. Does George Karl ever call a play during a timeout? The title of Mr. Big Shot still belongs to Robert Horry, not Chauncey Billups. Nene, screaming “No, no” after fouling out. Andrew Bynum setting the “payback” screen on Dahntay Jones. 

Game faces on the Lakers in Game 6. Chauncey yawning during Coach Karl’s pregame speech. Denver’s PA announcer or is it Detroit’s PA announcer? Phil Jackson bouncing out of his throne to argue a non-call. Trevor Ariza’s corkscrew jam. The inevitable Nuggets implosion and meltdown. “Mama, there goes that man.” Big Game James delivering the Western Conference Finals trophy. The Lakers trying to look interested during the trophy presentation. Cleveland, mucking up the showdown. Nike trying to run all of the Lebron/Kobe puppet spots in one night. Phil Jackson with a smirk on his face telling George Karl, “nice job.” And last but not least, the Laker Girls.

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Magic Johnson – 30 Years of Showtime Part I

dEDGE Post Scriptum

Here’s an article to help fill the gap between the just concluded Western Conference Finals, and to get the juices flowing again for our impending date with the Orlando Magic. A lot of you may remember the broad-smiled, boyish mannered rookie teaming up with the aloof, grizzled veteran, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the 1979-80 NBA season. But for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to witness the real Showtime, here’s Part I to a jaunt down memory lane to help evoke the spirits of Lakers past in our bid for the 2008-09 NBA crown.

Going relatively unnoticed this season was the 30th anniversary of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s arrival to the Los Angeles Lakers and the birth of Showtime. Magic was selected as the overall number 1 pick in the 1979 NBA draft by new Lakers owner, Jerry Buss. The 19-year old sophomore from Michigan State had just led his Spartans to the NCAA title by defeating Indiana State starring their own magical player, Larry Bird. Magic, stood 6’9″ and 215 lbs., and was built like a prototypical power forward. But his eye popping, ball-handling skills and court vision made him a natural yet unusual point guard.

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Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

He overpowered and punished smaller guards that tried to defend him. He was able to scan the entire court and pass over, around and through any defender. And he could beat slower footed bigs who tried to out-muscle him with physical play. Magic entered the league with all of the hype and expectations of a hoops savior. He was that and much, much more. Naysayers said that he wouldn’t last, that the rigors of the NBA would soon slap the naive smile from his face. But Magic didn’t simply arrive, he landed in L.A. with a bang and immediately created a renaissance for the entire league. He made it fun to watch NBA games again. More importantly, he made it cool to pass the ball. And he brought an aura of invincibility with him that soon spread like a California wildfire, catching everyone and everything in its path. Shortly after Magic’s arrival, Showtime was born and Los Angeles was head over heels with its new superstar. 

What endeared him to fans from the get-go was the simple joy he displayed for the game. He not only displayed his emotions freely and in full view, but he shared them with all around him with the innocent exuberance of a child. His beaming and radiant smile were a welcome sight to fans in an era when athletes typically made themselves recluses and unavailable to the public. Magic showed his joy on and off the court, high-fiving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after a signature skyhook or a total stranger on the street with equal aplomb. He rebuilt and rebranded the careers of many, and brought success and lucrative contracts to relative unknowns. “I’m going to keep on smiling because that’s how I live,” he says. “When I get up in the morning I’m grateful to see the sun. I’m just going to go on being happy old Earvin because that’s what people seem to like. And it’s fun to be liked, the funnest thing of all.”

He took a back seat to scoring but his presence was always in the limelight. Magic could score 4 points, but still dominate the game from start to finish. His passion was unparalleled, his loyalty unwavering, and his determination steadfast. Magic’s first season read like this: 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists per game. And that was while he split the point guard duties with Norm Nixon. He had opponents shaking their heads in disbelief. He could deliver the ball right into your hands when there was no possible way to get it there. “Magic sees angles a lot of guards don’t see,” former teammate Jim Chones once said, “and he gives you the ball in the rhythm of your move so you can go right up with it.” 

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Copyright may apply. All rights reserved.

Magic was everything imaginable at any given time. Scorer, passer, rebounder, defender, emotional healer, teammate, cheerleader, floor general, and world-class entertainer. If you blinked when you were watching him, you risked missing the highlight of the evening. If you were one of his teammates and looked away, you risked having Spaulding implanted on the back of your head. But if you ever felt miserable, Magic could make you smile again. And if you ever felt like punching a Celtic, or was tired of the losing, or felt that the team wasn’t competing, Magic had your back and wore these emotions on his sleeve for you. He was the ultimate competitor yet displayed the utmost sportsmanship. He was the bona fide ringleader, the new sheriff in town, and a god-sent savior for the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA.

Magic, along with a star-studded line-up, (Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Jim Chones,and fellow rookie Michael Cooper), brought home the NBA title that first year. And celebrating right next to him was his new pal, Jerry Buss. Everyone knows Magic’s line in the Lakers’ 123-107 title clinching victory against Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers, (42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot). He was more than magical in that game, making the acrobatic and graceful Julius Erving seem mortal. Furthermore, he made Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins appear tiny and insignificant. Kareem averaged 31.9 points and 12 rebounds per game in the playoffs. But he was upstaged by the rookie point guard after an ankle sprain in Game 5 had rendered him too hurt to go in Game 6. Everyone expected the Sixers to easily take that game and have Kareem back in uniform for the decisive Game 7. But it never came to that and instead, Finals MVP Magic Johnson led the parade down Broadway Avenue to the steps of City Hall where the Lakers hoisted their first trophy of the Showtime era.

Magic was, and remains the epitome of Lakers purple and gold and everything that falls in between. There is no other Laker player in history who has meant more to the organization during his playing days or after his retirement. Magic brought unparalleled success and non-stop excitement to the Lakers organization. And he brought hope, compassion and a new synergy after his playing days were through. And even through the darkest moments of his storied affliction with HIV, his early retirement and the difficult, stationary years thereafter, Magic faced all obstacles with that signature smile intact on his face and the unwavering confidence and naivete of a 19-year old kid. Today, Magic stands like a proud father, brooding and sometimes critical of his young and sometimes immature Lakers, but don’t ever doubt his loyalty or where his heart lies. He bleeds Forum blue and gold, and don’t you forget it.

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