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Analyzing the Lakers' psychology on winning

July 5, 2010 |  2:21 pm

As the Lakers have reflected on their 2010 NBA championship, two themes have emerged. They especially appreciated this title because they earned it by beating their archrival, the Boston Celtics, and because it capped a season full of challenges stemming from injuries, inconsistent performances and fatigue. Yet, not all players have experienced the joy of winning in the same way. Their reactions can be different, and quite telling.

Not everyone celebrated like Ron Artest, for instance, who proclaimed giddiness over a Wheaties championship box to reporters and shared his random, fun-filled thoughts in tweets.

Lamar Odom may not have been singing the praises of Wheaties, but he savored the win as well. "The feeling is amazing," the Lakers forward said of nabbing the championship. That’s opposed to losing – which, he noted, really hurts.

Lakers forward Pau Gasol uses the pain of remembered loss to boost his motivation. “Something that I like to do mentally is picture how it feels to lose," he said. "If we lose this game … how hard it's going to be,” and then he does “whatever it takes so it doesn't get to that point."

But for guard Kobe Bryant, it’s not “I really don’t want to lose this series. We want to pummel these guys,” it’s all about “the joy of winning,” he said. “Everything else adds to it. … It's always the excitement of winning."

Yet as much as the chance to win provided motivation, criticism may have added fuel to Bryant’s fire. There was the perception that he was too old against the Thunder's youth, and the semifinals matchup against Utah likely reminded him of his early struggles against the Jazz. The West Finals series against Phoenix probably brought back memories of the Lakers' 2006 and 2007 first-round exits to the Suns. Eventually, the NBA Finals against Boston partly served as redemption for the 2008 Finals loss, as well as adding to the historic rivalry.

As the Lakers prepare for next season, it’s interesting to mull what kind of attitude is the best for winning. The answer could prove important in the team’s chance at a three-peat.

Over the years, Lakers legends have used both positive and negative energy as part of their success strategies. Lakers owner Jerry Buss has shown willingness to spend money to build a championship team even if it eats into his profits. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson stresses meditation so his team relaxes and visualizes success. He has said he values the journey to a championship even more than the Larry O'Brien trophy itself. Lakers guard Derek Fisher prides himself on being a positive role model. He’s provided leadership in a utility position, although he has admitted that the bite of criticism – age and slowness against quicker guards – has pushed him to succeed.

Magic Johnson, who won five titles with the Lakers, personified the positive persona. Jerry West, who won a title in 1972 and helped orchestrate the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-2002 as general manager, was known as a perfectionist who succeeded through constant self-doubt.

Perhaps winning can become too much of a given for a championship team, becoming numbing at times for the Lakers. There’s a false impression that success can come at the flip of a switch. The fear of losing can provide a nice jolt, a reminder that success can be fleeting.

Balance is needed, though.

I've always appreciated Bryant's joy in small victories. After a reporter asked Bryant in his recent exit interview how much it helped working with Lakers shooting coach Chuck Person and former Celtics scout Mike Procopio, I followed up, remarking to Bryant that he seemed to gain satisfaction from adding a new wrinkle to his game.

"It's just fun for me," Bryant answered. "I enjoy what I do. So you love what you do, you're constantly looking for ways to do it better or do it different. I just love the game."

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com


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