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A fourth title would be dynastic for Los Angeles

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2002

Let the Los Angeles Lakers be forewarned: No team has pulled off a four-peat in nearly four decades. If Red Auerbach ever gets in touch with Phil Jackson, he can tell him all about it.

No NBA team has won four consecutive championships since the Boston Celtics won every title from 1959 to 1966.

You want to talk about dynasties? Eight in a row set the ultimate standard.

That is not to diminish what the Lakers accomplished Wednesday night by finishing off the frightened New Jersey Nets, who were all too satisfied with getting out of the East and all too unworthy of providing decent competition for the Lakers.

By winning three straight NBA championships, the current Lakers have made their mark as a team that will be remembered as one of the best in league history. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant aren't planning on retiring any time soon, either, so this era could go on for many more years.

Jackson, now tied with Auerbach for most titles as a coach (nine), has always said that winning a third straight title was always the toughest. He has never had a decent chance to try for a fourth.

After the Chicago Bulls won their third straight title in 1993, Michael Jordan shocked the sporting world by announcing his retirement from basketball to pursue a career in baseball. The Bulls were knocked out by the New York Knicks in the second round in 1994.

After Jordan returned to the NBA and won three more titles from 1996-98, the team was broken up for a variety of reasons, including the poor relationship between Jackson, Jordan and general manager Jerry Krause. Jackson spent a season away from coaching, took the job with the Lakers and took a player, O'Neal, with a history of going down hard in the postseason and made him into a champion. A three-time champion.

''He gave me a plan when we first met him. He promised that if we stuck to the plan, everything would work out,'' O'Neal said.

''It was something I needed in my life. I was sort of a great player that didn't have any championships. Ever since I met Phil, I have three.''

Winning a fourth straight championship is uncharted territory since the mid-1960s, when the Celtics were led by a dominant big man, Bill Russell, and a high-scoring shooting guard, Sam Jones. The current Lakers, coincidentally, also have a couple of pretty good players at those positions, too.

''I don't know about ranking among the great teams ever. We really have to stand the test of time,'' Bryant said. ''It's a hot topic. People will talk about it until they're blue in the face, but we still have a long way to go.''

It's easy to forget that Bryant is only 23. He has been in the league for six seasons already, and probably has another dozen superstar years ahead of him. If Bryant wins three titles in the next six years, he'll have six championship rings by the time he reaches the age of 29, which is how old Jordan was when he won his first title.

''The first one is a novelty and it feels good. The first one will always be the best one,'' Bryant said. ''The second one, the adversity that we went through throughout the course of the year made that special. We proved that we belonged.''

''And this one, it's kind of making us step up as one of the great teams. Having a seven-game series against Sacramento, being down 3-2, it challenged us. We responded to it, and that makes this one that much more special.''

No historical comparison of these Lakers would be complete without a comparative look at Shaquille O'Neal. Better than Russell? Unfair comparison; totally different players. Better than George Mikan? Just as dominant.

Better than Wilt Chamberlain, who once averaged more than 50 points?

''Nobody (compares),'' Nets coach Byron Scott said. ''Look at Wilt Chamberlain. (Shaq) outweighs Wilt by 60-70 pounds and he has a mean streak about him, about his game. That's why he dominates.

''He's one of those guys you don't want to deal with.''

The only team that had any measure of success dealing with O'Neal was Sacramento Kings, who had the Lakers on the ropes before losing Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals.

While steamrolling the Nets in four games, the Lakers made references to the Kings nearly every day. Sacramento has earned the Lakers' respect, even if Phil Jackson and Co. seemed intent on disrespecting the Kings with some of their comments.

If the Lakers want to win a fourth consecutive title, they'll need to exhibit some of the same confidence that got them through their toughest moments on the road to title No. 3.

''They're plotting, they're waiting. I'm sure Sacramento's working out right now,'' Bryant said. ''And we're not going to let our guards down.

''They're going to try to take what we have, and we're going to be waiting for them.''



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