Ten years. I am now a college student, my brother’s soon to take college entrance tests. I just left my teenage years behind.
Yet images from the legendary seven-game Sacramento Kings-Los Angeles Lakers Western Conference Finals in 2002 still remain fresh in my mind, as fresh as the wounds which were reopened by watching part 6 of “The Greatest Tragedy In Sports” series on YouTube.
The next week or so will mark the 10-year anniversary of perhaps the greatest playoff series of the new millennium.
It was the series which I really tuned in to from wire to wire of every game, from the opening tip to the final buzzer; from the broadcasts opening billboard to the network’s “All rights reserved…” display on the TV. I fondly remember one game in the series which was scheduled to air on ESPN Asia at 8 am Manila time. I had a dream, and in that dream, the clock showed 8:00 am and I was still in bed. When it ticked one more minute, it was already 8:01 and I was still in bed. I panicked that I might miss the game. “Oh no!” I thought. I bolted up from my bed and checked the time. It was not even 7 am yet.
I was that engrossed with that playoff series it permeated my dreams.
So here’s a series of entries to commemorate each game from Game 4 to Game 7, the most dramatic games of the series.
Game 7, June 3, 2002 (Manila time)
Like the previous three contests, Game 7 was a nail-biter. In fact, it went into overtime. The Lakers pulled off the win 112-106. I remember seeing this game and thinking, “Wow, the Kings are missing a lot of free throws.”
The entire time I was seeing free throw after free throw clang, go in and out, short, long, I attributed this to nerves. Maybe they were nervous, since they were facing the defending champions who are seeking a three-peat, yet here are the young Sacramento Kings, having their first taste of Conference Finals action with an entire city on their backs.
Oh, get a win here and the confetti will start to fall, the crowd will be storming the court in joyful celebration. The Sacramento Kings will be on their way to the NBA Finals to face a much weaker New Jersey Nets team.
The sold-out Arco Arena seemed like a pressure cooker.
Besides Vlade Divac, no one has been in a game as important as this in their NBA careers. Not even Mike Bibby, their best player, who came from a mediocre Vancouver Grizzlies team in a trade for showman Jason Williams.
“These missed free throws may come back and bite them in the ass later on.” (Yes, I already had an NBA-analyzing mind when I was 10.)
It did. They only hit 16 out of 30 from the foul line. They lost the game by six. Thinking about it, the Kings might have won if they hit just half of what they missed. The Lakers won that game to become the first team in 20 years to win a conference final on the road.
At that time, with the series over, I thought I just watched a regular playoff series; a series which would be forgotten and never considered a classic. Fast forward to today. I still remember images from the games. I still remember how I felt watching those games. I still remember the plays which made this matchup the series of that year and of the past decade.
Scour the internet and search for a “best playoff series since 2000” list. Believe me, this series would always appear, along with Lakers-Blazers 2000, Suns-Lakers 2006, and Cavs-Pistons 2007 (the last two at least in my personal list).
This series welcomed me officially to the NBA. For over half my life, I’ve been watching, celebrating, enjoying, getting pissed off, screaming at the (TV) referees, clapping, cheering, and analyzing. Life is good with it, and unimaginable without it.
I’m looking forward to decades more, when I would have my own Larry Birds, Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, new playoff heroes for my generation.