By Chris Le
To me, the story of the NBA Finals isn’t the resurgent rivalry of the Celtics and Lakers. I’m not sure if it still qualifies as one since both teams were steeped in mediocrity the past few seasons and haven’t met in the postseason in over 30 years.
Basketball isn’t like baseball, where franchises, even cities, are legitimate adversaries (e.g. the Yankees and Red Rox). Granted, they aren’t division rivals, but you don’t see the same burning hatred between the Knicks and Celtics. Alternatively, animosity in the NBA has and always will be character driven. It was the individual battles that made past meetings between the Celtics and Lakers so captivating.
Unfortunately for us, the 2008 chapter of this series lacks just that.
This is far from the battles our grandfathers witnessed between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Long gone is the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird grudge matches of our fathers’ generation. No, these upcoming games appear to be completely void of any bad blood, unless you count the small tiff between Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen a few years back when Allen called the current MVP selfish. But that’s hardly a marquee match up worth tuning in for.
Instead, the story of this series, the reason to watch these NBA Finals, is the continuing paths of two men—with their legacies hanging in the balance—seeking the same objective for two completely contrasting reasons. And I can’t wait to see who wants it more. Or, more importantly, who is good enough to accomplish his goal.
Kevin Garnett, whose struggles with the Minnesota Timberwolves are well-documented, seeks his first title. Long known as one of the games hardest-working and fiercest competitors, KG thirsts for a ring so explicitly, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, he almost makes you think he deserves one without actually having to earn it by beating his opponent. His game even prompted the legendary Bill Russell to offer KG one of his own 11 rings if he continues to play with his patented verve and desire. I can only image KG’s reaction if he actually wins the championship. There’s no doubt in my mind his sobbing will put to shame anything Roger Federer and Terrell Owens consider crying.
Kobe, on the other hand, already possesses three rings. And you may snicker at the idea that Kobe’s hunger for a fourth championship is in the mere vicinity of KG’s want for his first. But Kobe is chasing something he’s craved as long as KG has aspired to be a champion—his own legend, separate from His Airness.
It must eat up his insides to constantly hear claims that he can’t win a title on his own, or that his first three championships don’t count in his quest to Jordan because Kobe was Robin to Shaquille O’Neal’s Batman.
Don’t believe otherwise, Kobe would love nothing more than to shut everybody up and prove he is every bit Jordan’s equal—if not better.
Kobe tries to play it politically correct, putting forth clichés like “Michael is Michael. He’s the greatest of all-time. I want to be the best I can be.” Blah, blah, blah.
Everyone just knows he wants to be the best to ever play the game just by watching him. From the way he plays, how he carries himself off the court, it’s just evident. I’m not saying this desire is necessarily bad either. I think all truly great players, deep down inside, for some on a subconscious level, aspire to be the greatest there ever was; it’s a part of what makes them great. You better believe Jordan had this mentality. That’s why when he had his opponents down, he proceeded to stomp on their necks, going for 50 and playing as hard as ever even when a game was already decided. He wanted to leave no doubt as to who was the man.
Of course, no athlete can publicly admit a conscious yearning to be better than another player. They’d be crucified by fans and the media. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have this urge inside them.
Kobe has it. You can tell that he’s wanted to be better than Jordan ever since he was in high school. And with a fourth title, he’d be on his way to Jordan’s summit.
So forget about the whole Celtics-Lakers mystique. This NBA Finals is about Kobe and KG.