19,136 shirts await Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The slogan "Rise Together" was printed on the fronts of 19,136 blue T-shirts covering every seat in the Ford Center as the Los Angeles Lakers went through their morning shootaround Thursday anticipating the raucous crowd that would greet them later that night in the first home playoff game for the Thunder since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008.
"I'm sure somebody will have a decibel meter in the building," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "We expect it to be loud. This fan base has been great to the Hornets, when they were unfortunately forced to come here and then as they now have the home team, they've been great to them as well. They've waited for this opportunity for a long time and if we allow it to be, it will be a factor so we have to make sure that we remain composed and make sure we're poised and really playing a solid game."
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson, the son of a minister, quipped, "Once the benediction's over, the Amens get too loud in this building."
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Both player and coach agreed that the Thunder should be able to feed off the energy in the building as they try to dig themselves out of a 2-0 series deficit in Game 3.
"When you're facing a young team like we're facing here, there's an energy level and a confidence level and a belief in ability that is a little bit different at home," Fisher said. "Sometimes that home crowd can make a difference for you when you're really trying to just gut it out and get a win."
Added Jackson: "I just think it inspires their crew a little bit and the adrenaline gets real high, but that goes away real quick."
The crowd will have special reason to cheer for its coach, Scott Brooks, who was named Coach of the Year by the NBA on Wednesday, edging out Milwaukee's Scott Skiles, Portland's Nate McMillan and Utah's Jerry Sloan. Brooks will be presented with the Red Auerbach Trophy that comes with the award at the game.
"I voted for him in the sporting magazine awards [that polled me]," Jackson said. "I thought the change in this team was great from a great offensive team to a team now that can play some defense and really works together ... He's certainly deserving of the award."
While his team might face a hostile environment in the games it plays while it's in town, Jackson said he was looking forward to spending the next three days in Oklahoma City.
"I can hardly wait to go to the Cowboy Hall of Fame," Jackson said. "I'm looking forward to it. Actually, Tex Winter, my former assistant, has a cousin who is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I'm not kidding; I'm going to search him down."
Jackson, known for his critiques of various NBA destinations including New Orleans ("I miss that mildew smell from New Orleans that permeates the air") and Sacramento (calling it a "cowtown") was genuine in his excitement about the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
"I spent my summers on a ranch," Jackson said. "I know what it's all about, sitting on a horse for eight hours and going out and rounding up cattle and branding cattle and that kind of stuff. That's where I grew up."
Still, Jackson enjoys a good roast of a city. When asked about Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah's comments about Cleveland ("You think Clevelend's cool? I never heard anybody say, 'I'm going to Cleveland on vacation'"), Jackson smiled.
"That was great, wasn't it?," Jackson said. "Jeanie [Buss, Jackson's girlfriend] said, 'He must be your son.'"
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com