2010 will forever be known as the year in which both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant cemented their places atop the proud history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. Or this season will be remembered as the year in which PJ and KB24 become synonymously linked together as three time losers in the NBA Finals. So much of what will comprise the legacy of two all-time greats hangs in the balance of Game 7.
A historic season filled with amazing accomplishments deserves a proper ending. Phil becoming the all-time winningest coach in franchise history and Kobe inheriting the throne as the all-time leading scorer in Laker history will be mere footnotes should this season end with a loss to Boston.
For Laker purists such as myself, Phil Jackson cannot be considered the greatest Lakers coach without a win over the hated Celtics in the Finals on his resume. The same can be said for Kobe and his title as greatest Laker ever.
The ad nauseam of discussing Kobe’s legacy has already become maddening.
Every game becomes a “defining” moment in Bryant’s career. As if his countless clutch moments, 81-point onslaught and legendary work ethic will all be forgotten should Kobe again fail on basketball’s biggest stage at the hands of the Celtics.
Inevitably the Jordan comparisons are shifting from barbershop talk to front page headlines. One advantage KB24 could have over His Airness is a win in the rivalry that the NBA was built on.
Sure, Jordan had to overcome teams like the Celtics and Pistons before reaching the hoops promised land. But none of those clashes bore the historical significance of Lakers-Celtics. Kobe’s chance to exact revenge would be a brand new chapter in hoops history. Bryant is venturing into waters not even MJ himself ever tested.
While Bryant won’t publicly acknowledge the historical significance of Thursday’s contest, make no mistake, he is certainly aware of it.
As for PJ, well, he’s got one last resume builder to complete before ascending into the pantheon of greatest coaches ever. He’s got to get a win in the biggest and best rivalry in American sports.
Pat Riley doesn’t have the jewelry collection of Phil but he’s got a couple notches on his belt from beating Boston in the Finals. Jackson will forever have an incomplete legacy if he’s unable to defeat the Celtics when an NBA title is up for grabs.
Jackson is a made man in the coaching business. He entered with nothing yet has spent most of his NBA coaching career playing for everything. Somehow his penchant for coaching up the greatest to ever play the game has been seen as a crutch instead of a compliment. A win against Boston will help put to rest some of that talk. After all, when it comes to Lakers-Celtics, the floor is always flooded with HOF talent. The difference between these two titans always boils down to passion and pride.
Any coach who wins a title in a Lakers-Celtics clash is forever viewed as a motivator of men beyond reproach. Getting the best of the best to be even better is the ultimate coaching challenge and PJ has made a career of meeting that challenge head on.
With an aging core and an uncertain future, this Celtics team could be seeing a prolonged absence from the NBA Finals after Thursday’s game is complete. Therefore, this could well be the last chance both Phil and Kobe will have to gain admittance into the most exclusive of Laker clubs.