The 2007-08 Los Angeles Lakers surprised many by jumping into championship contention earlier than many predicted they would, behind the superb play of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom alongside superior coaching from Phil Jackson. Bryant entered the season seemingly on the verge of being dealt elsewhere after a series of trade demands, but those demands went away once the team acted as one of the best of the West for most of the season’s first few months prior to Andrew Bynum’s knee injury, a loss they made up for in February of that season by dealing for former Memphis big man Pau Gasol.
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The team went on, still ahead of schedule, to face the newly-fearsome Boston Celtics (a squad that started the season on a 29-3 tear) in the Finals before bowing out in the deciding game in a 131-92 blowout.
Phil Jackson, in a talk with Charley Rosen that was recently published at Today’s Fastbreak, detailed his version of the conversations with Bryant that followed that loss:
“But then we had the chance to trade for Pau Gasol. Kobe and I talked about the prospect of doing this. Gasol might not be a good rebounder, and he might not be able to wrestle with opponents in the low post. Well, we did make the trade, Pau played well and we did get to the finals, but the Celtics physically abused him and we lost the seventh game.
“After the loss, Kobe was very calm. We had a very logical discussion about our simply not having enough tools to win. Sure, he was disappointed, but he wasn’t angry or inconsolable like I’ve seen some guys be in the same circumstances.
“In the offseason, I consulted Kobe about another player we had a chance to sign. Ron Artest. Kobe was agreeable, and with Ronnie’s considerable help, we won another championship.
To begin, the 2008 NBA Finals (between Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers) went six games.
Not seven. Pau Gasol did not let the team down in “game seven,” he (apparently) let the team down by contributing 11 points on 4-7 shooting with eight rebounds and five turnovers in 33 minutes, a contest that Bryant and Odom combined to miss 20 of 30 shots.
It’s true that after a while all these playoff games tend to build up, and memories fade, but it’s a pretty significant thing to confuse what turned out to be a one-sided Boston win in 2008 with the wickedly-close back and forth that was the 2010 NBA Finals pitched between Boston and Los Angeles. A Finals that went seven games.
A Finals that marked the then-Ron Artest’s first trip to the championship stage.
See, the Lakers traded for Artest during the 2009 offseason, after swingman Trevor Ariza helped lead them to a nearly-dominant Finals turn over the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Finals.
Ariza was so good in 2009, and Artest’s reputation as an offensive ball-dominator was so poor, that many wondered if it was in the Lakers’ best interests to swap one for another as they eventually did. Especially when the team played so convincingly well with the low-usage, younger, and defensively adept Ariza (who, seven years later, is still playing great ball) at the small forward spot.
Artest went on to become the hero of 2010 Western Conference finals, saving the Lakers with an offensive rebound and buzzer-beating game-winner in Game 5 against the Suns, while Gasol returned to become the hero of the Finals that year with the same offensive carom in the Game 7 win. Ron then became a folk hero of sorts after his fantastic work in the post-championship press area.
He wasn’t “signed,” however, after the Lakers fell short in 2008. Hell, the Lakers even had to go through a combative Artest (then playing with Houston) during the 2009 Western Conference semis to make it to the Finals that season.
This sort of memory whiff from Phil Jackson wouldn’t come off nearly as poorly were it not for the dubious anecdote that he then created regarding his 2008 conversations with Bryant following the “game seven” loss to Boston; an anecdote that now has us wondering about all the money we’ve spent on self-penned Phil Jackson books over the last two decades.
Worse, for longtime Jackson collaborator Charley Rosen not to correct his meal ticket, and for Today’s Fastbreak to go along with the whole story without a peep or even an editor’s note makes the whole enterprise look a whole heck of a lot worse for all involved.
It’s embarrassing to forget things on record, as we’ve all done it. It’s another story to be caught creating conversations about situations that wouldn’t present themselves until 13 months later, under entirely different circumstances.
It’s a good thing Phil Jackson isn’t trusted to be the president of one of the NBA’s marquee teams, right?
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