Top 5 memorable Laker stories of 2010
1. Lakers win 2010 NBA championship. Well, duh. The Lakers' 16th NBA championship is the reason the organization, team and fans had an enjoyable offseason. And it made the Lakers the yardstick against which everyone else in the league has measured their free-agency moves and early regular-season progress. But it's not just the Lakers' championship win that made for a No. 1 storyline. It was all the subplots that surrounded Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Lakers closed in on their rivalry with the Celtics, avenging their 2008 Finals loss to Boston, closing the gap behind Boston's 17 titles and its Finals series lead to 9-3. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant won his fifth championship ring by relying on his teammates during a poor shooting performance. Lakers forward Ron Artest provided a heroic Game 7 performance, followed by a memorable postgame interview where he thanked his psychiatrist and a postgame press conference where he expressed excitement over a Wheaties championship box, among other things. Lakers forward Pau Gasol capped off a series that helped him to shed that "soft" label, which had been exacerbated by the Lakers' 2008 Finals loss to the Celtics. Lakers guard Derek Fisher added another chapter to his leadership (reining in Bryant, calming down the team) and provided some particularly clutch shots (hitting a critical three-pointer to tie the game at 66-66 with 6:12 remaining; the Lakers never trailed after that point). Sasha Vujacic proved that even a player with a limited role can be instrumental in securing a title as he hit two free throws that gave the Lakers an 83-79 lead with 11.7 seconds remaining. And, of course, the title gave Jackson his 11th championship ring, with the possibility of three-peating for a fourth time in his career proving rather enticing as he weighed whether to return to coach at least for one more season.
2. Ron Artest raffles off his championship ring for mental-health charities. Artest's decision seemed puzzling at first, considering how much winning his first title meant to Artest after a sometimes difficult 11-year career. But with his popularity reaching an all-time high following his Game 7 performance, Artest figured he'd use that buzz to support a cause close to his heart. Artest raised $651,006 for mental-health charities by raffling off his ring Christmas Day. The winner was Raymond Mikhael, a Hawthorne resident and married father of four children.
In pushing for his cause, Artest was been given the keys to the city of Las Vegas, met with former President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and appeared at Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, where he spoke to students about the mental-health issues he had dealt with since age 13. He donated a $50,000 check to Pacific Clinics. And he filmed a public-service announcement on behalf of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
3. The Lakers have a successful offseason. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak took a bold step in ensuring a well-stocked roster after a second consecutive title. Meanwhile, Miami made big moves in assembling the so-called super team, bringing in LeBron James and Chris Bosh and securing Dwyane Wade.
Aside from retaining Jackson, Fisher and Shannon Brown, the Lakers also picked up Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff and drafted essential steals in Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. And the Lakers' losses were minimal, with backup guard Jordan Farmar going to New Jersey, Josh Powell signing with Atlanta, D.J. Mbenga joining New Orleans and Adam Morrison still looking for a team.
Offseason acquisitions, aside from Ratliff, who's had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, have paid off. Blake showed an immediate understanding of the triangle. Barnes provided hustle plays and ate some of Artest's minutes. Brown's shooting numbers improved. Even if his regular-season performances have been inconsistent, Fisher's clout in the locker room can't be underestimated. And Jackson's decision to stay for another season helps ensure continuity.
4. Many Hall of Fame honors and other accolades for several Lakers. A Lakers championship will always serve as the top story. But in a year when the Lakers secured their 16th title, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductions provided another reminder of who set the foundation for the Lakers' success.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss became the third Laker to enter the Hall of Fame as a contributor, joining broadcaster Chick Hearn and Pete Newell. Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 and ushered in the showtime era, securing 10 NBA championships and providing one of L.A.'s main attractions. It also was fitting that two other Lakers who helped to define the organization were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Jerry West was inducted for his involvement with the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, and Magic Johnson was inducted for his play with the 1992 U.S. Dream Team.
West captured several other honors, being inducted alongside key triangle architect and former Jackson assistant Tex Winter into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. To top it off, the Lakers announced they would unveil a statue of West as a player during NBA All-Star weekend at Staples Center Feb. 18-20.
5. Kobe Bryant surpasses West as Lakers' all-time scoring leader. Bryant eclipsed West's mark of 25,192 career points with the Lakers on Feb. 1 against the Memphis, making Bryant the team's all-time leading scorer. In 1996, Bryant as a 17-year-old kid out of Lower Merion High School (Pennsylvania) impressed West during a pre-draft workout. West, then the Lakers' general manager, traded Vlade Divac on July 11, 1996, to the Hornets for the rights to acquire Bryant, the team's 13th pick.
Bryant's still pursuing scoring records, entering Sunday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies with 26,626 career points, meaning he should surpass on Dominique Wilkins (26,668) and Oscar Robertson (26,710) fairly soon.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant stands on the scorers' table at Staples Center after the Lakers defeated the Celtics to win the NBA championship on June 17, 2010 at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times