I remember October 28, 2003 like it was a yesterday. In fact, I still have the “Lakers Reloaded” poster that was handed out at Staples Center to those of us who were lucky enough to attend the first meaningful game featuring four future Hall of Famers: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. I remember how that season began, how it ended, and everything that happened after it. So when I see similarities between that team and this year’s team it scares me a little bit. That’s why I was nervous when I heard that Kobe was doubtful for opening night. He had missed that opening night game in 2003, also at home against the Mavs, while recovering from an injury.
If I learned anything during that season it’s that championships aren’t won on paper.
**I also learned if you can get Rasheed Wallace in a trade for just Bob Sura, Zeljko Rebraca, Chucky Atkins, and a couple of picks, you have a good chance of beating a team that has to give meaningful minutes at power forward to Slava Medvedenko. By the way, why wasn’t there even half as much outrage about that trade as there was about the Gasol trade?
That opening night game in 2003 was one of the best Lakers games I’d ever seen. I was in awe of how a team that had so many new players was able to play as if they’d been together for four or five years. The Laker half of the box score from that game was so pretty that I contemplated putting it in a frame and hanging it on my wall:
109 points, all five starters with at least 15 points (plus a reserve with 10), four starters with at least seven rebounds, three starters with at least five assists (two of whom had nine), and only 10 turnovers total. This is how basketball should be played — mistake free, unselfish, and efficient. The history books might show that the Lakers won the game by 16 but it was over when the Lakers led 86-67 after three quarters.
**Quick aside: two players on the court for the Mavs that night were Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison. Can you see why I’m a little freaked out by the similarities?
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Lakers had another game that season with a box score that even came close to that one.
The biggest distractions facing the team that year weren’t the contract situations of Shaq and Kobe, but Kobe’s legal situation in Eagle that had him flying back and forth between Colorado and L.A. for court appearances. We can only hope that the biggest distraction this team will face is whether or not Dwight Howard will re-sign. While that might seem like a foregone conclusion, nobody anticipated that seven months after the 2003 Lakers destroyed the Mavs on opening night that Phil Jackson would be unemployed, Shaquille O’Neal would be on his way to Miami, Derek Fisher would be headed to Golden State, Gary Payton would be traded to the Boston Celtics, Rick Fox and Horace Grant would retire, and Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone would have one of the oddest teammate beefs in the history of sports.
So as we embark on what could be a historical Lakers season for many reasons, the only piece of advice I can give you is to proceed with caution. Don’t let the wins get you too high and don’t let the losses get you too low. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. They don’t hand out rings for 8-game winning streaks or fire the coach after 3-game losing streaks (even if they should). This collection of talent is way too savvy and experienced to let something like homecourt advantage stand in the way of a title.
There will be turbulence on this flight. I just ask that you please stay seated with your seat belt on until the captain has turned off the seat belt sign. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen until late-June.
Check out what Mike Brown had to say about Kobe being “chippy” in practice today.
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