Mitch Kupchak, Lakers Find Old 1996 Glory in Summer of 2012

It’s funny how often history repeats itself. We see it over and over again, yet every time it happens we are still surprised. At what point do we stop letting life surprise us with something we’ve seen before?

I feel that this is more evident in sports than in any other walk of life. Sure, you see similarities between politicians and world events. Even wars separated by several decades have parallels that seem beyond coincidence. Still, in sports it never seems to fail.

Consider this: At the end of the 2007 NFL season the New England Patriots coasted into the Super Bowl with the best record in the league. They took on the New York Giants, a team that barely reached the post-season and were seen as astronomical underdogs. Sure enough, New York trumped the mighty Patriots and became the league’s unlikeliest of champions.

Fast-forward to 2012. The Patriots, once again holding the best record in their conference, find themselves back in the Super Bowl. Naturally, the 9-7 Giants crept back into the playoffs and played their way back to the championship game. The result? A near identical game that ended on a late-game touchdown scored by the Giants and a New York championship.

It’s almost eerie.

So let’s get back to basketball. In 1996 the Orlando Magic found themselves with a disgruntled center that wanted out of town. He had led them to the NBA Finals several years before but came up short. His attitude was getting progressively worse as it became more and more apparent that he wasn’t going to remain in Orlando.

So what happens?

He leaves Florida for the bright lights of Los Angeles, cements his legacy by winning three championships in L.A., and ultimately retires as one of the best centers in league history.

Again, let’s come back to the present. The Magic find themselves with the best center in the league. He led them to the championship round just four years ago, but has outgrown Orlando and desperately wants out of town. They’re faced with the proposition of keeping him on the roster and watching him desert town once his contract is up, or trading him and trying to at least get something out of him before he leaves of his own fruition.

Standing there, with open arms and a wide smile, are Mitch Kupchak and the L.A. Lakers. The same team that stole Shaquille O’Neal out from under Orlando more than a decade before, is waiting in the wings to do it once more. And the Magic have no choice but to let it happen.

Late Thursday night, Magic GM Rob Hennigan (reluctantly, I would assume) agreed to send the best center on the planet to Los Angeles in a 4-team deal that brought back a gaggle of draft picks and a bag of corn chips. Okay, I made up the part about the corn chips but you catch my drift.

History repeats itself, again. And it’s a cruel, debilitating feeling for those in Orlando, while the already-perfect weather in Hollywood gets a little more wonderful.

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I think Mike Bianchi, a sportswriter for the Orlando Sentinel, put it best when he visited with Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio on Friday morning.

“It’s like you fall in love with a woman and she leaves you for this studly guy. You finally get over her, you know, like 15 years later. And then you fall in love again, and the woman leaves you for the same damn guy.”

It’s a bad dream for those in Orlando. It’s that same, gut-wrenching feeling they had back in 1996 when they were forced to watch their star player leave town and proceed to dominate the NBA in a way we hadn’t seen since Wilt Chamberlain was playing. There’s not enough Recall in the world to help Orlando overcome this misery.

But there are two sides to every story. And on the other side of the black abyss that just swallowed the Amway Center are the Los Angeles Lakers. Again. While those in Orlando are eating food they can’t even taste, 3,000 miles away there is talk of golden trophies and summer-time parades. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from their Lakers.

And because they’ve seen this movie before.

Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal and Summer of ’96

That brings up the obvious question. Which magical heist (pardon the horrific pun) was the better move? And better yet, which off-season, 1996 or 2012, was the more successful for the Lakers?

The obvious answer is that it’s far too early to tell. It took eight years before O’Neal’s legacy in Los Angeles had played out and he had moved on to a different team. It’s clearly impossible to say how much of an impact these moves will have purely because we haven’t had a chance to see it yet. But the obvious parallels are there.

Next Page: Breaking Down 1996 vs. 2012

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