Commentary

Rings make memories sweeter

Reflections on the Lakers' title run and the moments we won't forget

Updated: June 21, 2010, 10:24 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

They did it.

And you'll never forget how they did it.

For years to come, whenever someone mentions the 2010 NBA Finals, you will instantly remember all the aftermath from Game 7 -- Kobe Bryant's face-consuming smile, Pau Gasol's title-prompted tears, Derek Fisher's champagne-soaked beard, Ron Artest's family reunion -- and think of what it looked like to see the Los Angeles Lakers reach the top of the mountain.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerek Fisher has many clutch performances in his career to reflect upon, validated even more by his fifth NBA title.

The Lakers achieved their singular mission by using a late Game 7 rally to beat the hated Boston Celtics 83-79 to win their 16th NBA championship. In the process, they saved a season's worth of moments to be cherished rather than abandoned.

Prior to Game 7, Celtics forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis said the last game was for "all the marbles" when in fact, it was really for all the memories.

Win, and the events that happened over the course of 113 games between the preseason, regular season and playoffs remain Cinderella stagecoach junctures; lose, and what were considered critical points in time turn back into ordinary pumpkins.

The most amazing shot of Fisher's amazing-shot-filled career came in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs, a prayer of a hoist released from his fingers with 0.4 left on the clock. The shot propelled the Lakers past the Spurs and eventually into the Finals, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons 4-1.

"I'd always said about that shot in 2004 that because we did not win the championship that year, as exciting as it was and is to talk about sometimes, it didn't hold the special meaning to me that it could have," Fisher said last week. "I don't really think about it a lot until other people ask me about it, because it's connected to losing a championship. So I kind of put that one away."

Now Fisher has a new set of memories to mount in the display case. He had 20 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 28.6 seconds left, in Game 3 of the second round against Utah. He had 11 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Finals, a win that turned into an emotional release for the Lakers as each and every one of Los Angeles' players and coaching staff marched up to Fisher's locker individually after the game to thank him for everything he does. And then there was his patented stamp on Game 7 on Thursday, a game-tying 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter that sparked the Lakers' late run to the title.

For awhile on Thursday night, the Lakers were in jeopardy of sending 18,997 fans home from Staples Center wondering why they poured their hearts and souls into cheering for a team since October only to be crushed at the end.

But Ron Artest answered Rasheed Wallace's 3-pointer with a 3 of his own to lock in L.A.'s win with a minute remaining, reminding us of those four 3-pointers he had in one game in the playoffs against the Jazz. Artest's clutch performance also resembled his lockdown defense on Kevin Durant in the first round, not to mention his game-winning putback in Game 5 against Phoenix followed by his 25 points in the clincher against the Suns.

And Gasol's play down the stretch, when he grabbed every key rebound and hit clutch free throws, made us remember his series-winning putback in Game 6 against Oklahoma City and his dominant series against Utah (23.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks). Gasol's 11 double-doubles in the last 15 games of his All-Star-earning regular season set the example for his teammates to follow of how to ramp up their games with the playoffs approaching.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Lakers' championship victory makes moments like Kobe's eight game-winners this season, including his last-second shot over Boston in January, taste even sweeter.

And Bryant's 10 points in the fourth quarter reminded you of how he can be clutch even when he's struggling. Two of his eight game winners during the regular season came as he battled injuries (a bad back against Dallas and a bum ankle against Boston). Finally, his legacy-securing fifth ring, putting him into a tie with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, made you remember the other Lakers legend, Jerry West. Bryant passed "The Logo" as the franchise's all-time leading scorer in a regular-season game in Memphis.

Now that the Lakers are champions once again, you can look back at every instance of the season with fondness.

The great moments are even greater -- snapping their nine-game losing streak in Portland, the road win in San Antonio where they held the Spurs to 35 points in the second half, Phil Jackson passing Pat Riley as the Lakers' all-time winning coach against Charlotte, the 11-game winning streak at the start of the season and the eight-game winning streak in the playoffs, the trip to the White House to meet President Obama -- and can now be framed as signs of the ultimate success that was on the way.

And the disappointing moments  all the injuries (Andrew Bynum, Gasol, Bryant, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic), losing seven of 11 games to close out the regular season, coming up small against the Cavs twice, the Game 4 blowout loss in Oklahoma City, the back-to-back losses in Boston in the Finals that put them down 3-2 -- were just pop quizzes to get the Lakers ready for the final test of seizing the championship when the result of Game 7 was still up in the air.

It was an unforgettable ride. The moments are now lasting memories.

The Lakers are now NBA champions.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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