Let’s not forget the two biggest names on the list: Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. For some, Kobe will never be regarded as the greatest of all-time, even if he does somehow win this series and winds up with more rings than Michael Jordan. But that’s not what’s at stake here- at least not at this point in his career. If Kobe fails to lead his team to victories in the final two games, there’s no way he will surpass Magic Johnson as the “Greatest Laker Ever” despite what Magic himself has to say about the matter.
What made Magic an all-time great was his ability to elevate his game on the biggest stage, along with his ability to make the players around him better. While I’ve forgotten every locker combination I’ve ever had, the numbers 42-15-7-3 (Magic’s stat line for Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals as the starting center in his rookie season) are forever ingrained in my memory. Magic’s Lakers teams also beat Boston twice in the NBA Finals – the only two times the Lakers have ever beat the Celtics on such occasion. If Kobe loses again, he will be 0-2 against Boston in the NBA Finals and it’s highly improbable that he’ll get another opportunity to play them again – especially with each member of the Big 3 drawing another year closer to retirement.
If Phil Jackson loses, it’s definitely not going to tarnish his reputation, but there will be small dents and scratches to otherwise sparkling and masterful coaching mantle. He’s already won more NBA titles than any coach in the history of the league and it’s hard to picture his record being broken anytime soon, if ever. But the Zen-master, regarded for his ability to get the most out of his players, will have to face questions about Ron Artest’s inability to fit in, Lamar Odom’s uneven performances, and the perception that his second-best player is “soft.”
All these things will be compounded and magnified if Phil Jackson cannot figure out a way to beat Boston. It’s also fair to consider that if the Lakers don’t win the title, does Phil Jackson really want to be encumbered with so many inconveniences for another season? Furthermore, don’t be surprised when a lot of pundits will come to the conclusion that Doc Rivers has out-coached Phil Jackson, and not for the first-time in a championship series. It’s like saying Paul Pierce is a better player than Kobe Bryant. It might not be true but at least in these series, the results speak for themselves.