Lakers vow ring ceremony won't distract them from regular-season opener
The lights will go off. Another banner will be placed in Staples Center. And every member of the Lakers' staff will receive their championship ring from last season's successful playoff run.
The rings will symbolize various championship totals among various Lakers. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson will have to figure out where to put his 11th ring, since all his 10 others fit two full hands of fingers. Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher will complete one hand with their fifth ring. Lakers forwards Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, center Andrew Bynum and guards Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic still have enough room on one hand with their two rings. Ron Artest will temporarily see his before raffling it off to raise proceeds for mental health charities. And then there's newcomers, such as Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, who will stand as outsiders but no doubt view the ceremony as something they hope repeats next season.
Regardless of the varied backgrounds among the Lakers' roster, one universal truth remains. They all insist the ring ceremony Tuesday at Staples Center won't consume them once the Lakers tip off their season opener against the Houston Rockets. With an off-season consisting of numerous club appearances, a Dodgeball tournament and getting pulled over in a race car, Artest could've definitely been speaking about himself when he said, "We celebrated enough." Fisher less dramatically noted how the ring ceremony and the game are "two separate things." And Gasol noted the necessity to "focus real quick."
"It's important to do that," Gasol said after practice Tuesday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "I've seen some games after a ring ceremony where the champion has paid that price. I've seen games where the team did a good job in regrouping and refocusing and taking care of business."
The Lakers didn't pay the price last season after their ring ceremony, opening the season with a 99-92 victory over the Clippers. But as The Times' Mike Bresnahan observed at the time, "a pregame testimony to success turned into a reminder that this was an entirely new season." The Lakers led by only one point entering the fourth quarter, began an 11-game stretch without Gasol because of a strained right hamstring and played in front of a fan corps that Bresnahan noticed "dropped dramatically after the opening festivities, only to recover in the fourth quarter when the Lakers began to look like, well, the Lakers."
The circumstances surrounding the Lakers' season opener against the Rockets could be different, for better or worse, simply because the Rockets are a more formidable respected opponent than, say, the Clippers. As picked to finish seventh in the West by The Times' Mark Heisler, the Rockets feature newly returned Yao Ming, physical Luis Scola, speedy Aaron Brooks, sharpshooter Kevin Martin and defensive stalwart Shane Battier, who's frequently managed to force Bryant to work more for his points.
"Probably - we respect them," Artest, a former Rocket, said when asked if the Lakers' opponent will make it easier for the team to quickly channel their focus onto the game following the ring ceremony. "We respect everybody, but you know Houston is coming here to win so they'll definitely demand some attention."
The The Lakers must somehow appropriately channel any emotion triggered from the ring ceremony.
If history serves as any indicator, the Lakers can be comforted to know that the past three championship teams, including themselves, managed the season opener in proper fashion. The Boston Celtics followed their ring ceremony for the 2007-08 championship with a 95-89 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the San Antonio Spurs answered in similar fashion to their ring ceremony in 2007 with a 106-97 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That shouldn't serve as a false luxury, considering the Miami Heat suffered an embarrassing 106-88 loss in 2006 to the Chicago Bulls after collecting its championship hardware.
The challenges go beyond the opponent and the recent history, however. The Lakers enter the 2010-2011 season with a litany of issues, including Bynum's expected month-long absence, a limited Bryant and a promising set of newcomers that should bolster the Lakers bench, but may go through inevitable adjustments. And then there's the emotions themselves. As easy as it is to say it, having to absolve any emotions surrounding the 2010 championship within a commercial break may prove challenging.
"It's different than the emotions of playing a game," Jackson said of the ring ceremony. "It's about thinking about last year and thinking about the teammates on your team, and thinking about the effort that went into winning a championship. You have to divorce yourself from it after that's done. The banner's raised, the rings are in your hand and you have to go back and play. You have to bring that intensity to it."
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Photo: One of the Laker girls has a close-up look at the NBA championship trophy and the Lakers' commemorative rings on the season's opening night last season. See the Lakers' rings ceremony in pictures Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images.