June 17, 2008.
Already I think I’ve lost a few readers. How dare I bring up the single most forgetful day in recent Lakers memory? In retrospect, was it really that bad? Okay, so maybe it was. But shouldn’t the Lakers winning back-to-back championships allow fans to move on from their 2008 finals defeat?
Well, it’s all a matter of perspective. To some the 39-point loss to the Boston Celtics in the finals stands as a blemish in the Lakers franchise’s long and illustrious history. In many ways that statement is accurate, but what if I told you that loss had to happen in order for the Lakers to come together and win titles No. 15 and 16? Imagine if the Lakers had won the finals in 2008. Would they have tried just as hard to win the following year even after Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury? Would they have mustered up enough tenacity to overcome a 13-point deficit to the Celtics and win in 2010?
There’s something about that date that sticks out, and it isn’t just the mental picture of the Lakers walking off the court as green confetti trickled down from the beams overhead. That’s the day that Kobe Bryant the player became Kobe Bryant the leader.
He didn’t make his way off the court and refuse to talk to the media. He didn’t run into the tunnel and remove his jersey to symbolically separate himself from the team. He did none of that.
Instead Bryant opted to face the media, albeit frustrated and disheartened, to say things like, “once you go through your ups and downs, struggle a little bit, taste defeat…it makes you stronger,” and, “we can’t expect to win a championship by focusing on the offensive end,” and “we have to continue to work…understand that [the finals aren’t] guaranteed to anybody.”