It doesn’t quite feel like yesterday, but everyone still remembers Kobe Bryant’s celebration and his long embrace with Derek Fisher after the final buzzer, finally freed from any criticisms that he couldn’t win another championship without Shaquille O’Neal.
Phil Jackson didn’t have to come back and tarnish his resume with two consecutive First Round eliminations, but this 10th championship that moved him past Celtics coach Red Auerbach for the most by a coach in league history, showed he was capable of building a championship team from the ground up.
Also, who could forget the joy displayed by Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Luke Walton after winning their first championship? After years of individual and playoff disappointments, Gasol and Odom were finally champions and no one could take that title away from them. Luke Walton, the only mainstay from the 2004 NBA Finals loss, endured changing roles and Kobe’s frustrations to help the team hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
And lastly, some players don’t ever get the chance to play in the NBA Finals, but the role players were instrumental in winning their first championships as well. Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell, Adam Morrison, and Sun Yue all contributed in their own ways with their play or celebrations from the bench.
Los Angeles had to wait seven long years before the 2009 Lakers were able to deliver another championship. The journey to this 15th championship was incredible and displayed a great level of motivation and persistence from all the players.
From not making the playoffs in the first year after O’Neal’s departure to losing in the 2008 Finals, this team could’ve easily given up. Instead, all the players continued to improve and coasted to a 65-17 regular season record. While the team struggled in the playoffs, Kobe was able to will the team past the Western Conference favorite Denver Nuggets into the Finals against the Orlando Magic. With unbelievable performances by Bryant and heroic plays by Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza, the Lakers celebrated on the Magic homecourt as Dwight Howard was in tears on the bench.
This 2009 Lakers team was special and it’s always nice to remember a team that was so determined, focused, and played the right way the entire season (something that next year’s Lakers can learn from).
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