In a weird way, I kind of miss 2004. Well, except for the immortal Derek Fisher 0.4 shot (sorry for the visual, I really am) that sent me spiraling into a perpetual catatonic state.
It was a perfect confluence of events — I was 11 years old, at the height of my extreme irrationality, and Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were at the pinnacle of their respective careers. Everything was set up for a prolonged struggle between two very, yet incredibly successful, different basketball teams — one relying on the girth of their two mega superstars while the other relied on one superstar, a lot of role players and impeccable defense.
It just so happened that the Lakers signed aging veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton which pissed me off.
Who the hell do Lakers think they are? Malone was 40 years old. Eight years ago.
Then, naturally, I was bombarded with ESPN proclaiming the Lakers as the definitive favorites even though the Spurs were the defending champions.
More than usual, this Lakers team called for more than the requisite amount of vitriol I impose on them, unknowingly.
I despised them. I wanted to see Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Devean George, Payton, Robert Horry (whoops … thanks for 2005), Malone, Kobe, Shaq to all simultaneously disappear off the face of the earth. (An aside: Yes, this was my childhood). Even Kareem Rush and Slava Medvedenko irked me.
After losing the season series 1-3, the Spurs found the Lakers in the Conference Semifinals. Although the Spurs were the inferior team, they took care of business at home, setting the Lakers with a tenuous proposition — down 2-0 with the certainty that, if they won, they’d have to beat the Spurs on the road. Did I mention that the Spurs were 33-8 at the AT&T Center that year?
I won’t delve any further into the playoff series because (A) we know the result and (B) I don’t want to start crying. But, after the derailing shot (yes … that shot) , the Spurs lost by 12 points in the Lakers seventh victory over the Spurs that year. In the closing game, Kobe and Shaq combined for 43 points, 26 rebounds, nine assists and five blocks.
For the series, Kobe and Shaq averaged 48.8 points. Duncan, without the steady presence of David Robinson for the first time in his career, responded with 20.7 points per game.
And although the series ended badly and I lost my basketball pain virginity — which, I’ll admit is an odd way to describe a basketball game — I dearly miss those days. Every Spurs-Lakers felt like life and death even though that’s probably a testament to how weird I was in my adolescent years. Even though the indomitable shot (that will be named no longer) was the definitive memory of my childhood, I miss the enmity between the teams and, subsequently, the enmity burning inside fans like myself. I miss yelling at Medvedenko just because I could, just because I loathed the Lakers. No one was safe. Even guys who averaged 5.3 points for their career.
The rivalry isn’t the same anymore. I’m not proclaiming it completely dead, but I don’t feel the same vitriol that I used to. I still hate the Lakers, please don’t forget this, but that’s mostly because Kobe is better at evoking an emotional response than just about any other superstar.
And yet, none of the 12 Lakers that were in uniform for the Spurs’ final loss of the ’04 season will play tonight. The tide has turned and both teams have a new cast — Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Andrew Bynum etc — that will be expected to carry the torch.
And yet I find myself asking, incessantly.
Is it wrong if I secretly miss the old Lakers?