The end of an era, an underdog for all, and the ultimate irony. These NBA playoffs almost have it all.
We’ll start with what turned out to be a most humbling end to the Phil Jackson Era in Los Angeles. The two-time defending champion Lakers were swept by the most improbable of enemies in the ugliest of fashions — a 36-point, series-ending rout at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.
It’s ending for Jackson, the smartest guy in the arena for virtually his entire coaching career, who will now ride into the sunset carrying the mantle of greatest coach in league history.
As reluctant as I have been through the years to give him his due, in large part because he was fortunate enough to coach some of the best players in NBA history on his way to his collection of 11 championship rings, an unbiased look at Jackson reveals that his accomplishments are far greater than even those of Red Auerbach, who won an incredible 9 titles in 11 seasons as coach of his dynastic Celtics teams. Yes, Jackson was fortunate enough to have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal waiting for instructions in his huddles, but Auerbach had future Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and John Havlicek staring back at him.
Jackson also won his titles in an expanded 30-team league, facing a multitude of threats each and every season. Auerbach won his rings in eight- or nine-team leagues, with just two playoff rounds before the NBA Finals, and far fewer chances of being upset.
The end of Jackson’s career was humbling, but his legacy as the greatest of all time is secure. And his 11 rings are as safe as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is.
- Quick, name three Memphis Grizzlies. Time’s up.
The Grizzlies entered these playoffs as the eighth seed in the West, and all they’ve done is embarrass the top-seeded Spurs and then open up a 2-1 lead on scoring champ Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder in the second round. This team is the ultimate underdog — more Cinderella than the NCAA tournament has ever produced — and if there’s justice in sports, fans in 24 cities, excluding the other six remaining in the playoffs, will be rooting for the Grizz to continue their march.
In the 30 seasons since 1980, the wide-open NBA has produced just eight different world champions. The dominant franchises have continued to flourish, while contenders have had virtually no shot at challenging the NBA royalty. Each win for the no-name Grizzlies is a blow for all the Warriors, Timberwolves, Nets, and Raptors of the world. Roll on, Grizzlies, roll on.
- And now the ultimate irony: I’m not a big believer in karma or kismet, or any of those things, but I think it’s just amazing that LeBron James was on the floor to watch Rajon Rondo’s incredible display of courage Saturday night in Boston.
It was James, then a member of the Cavaliers, who came up with a phantom elbow injury as part of his “Quitness” performance in a second-round series against these same Celtics one year ago. Doctors were never able to find anything wrong with James, but he clung to his story of soreness and used it as one of his many excuses for one of the worst efforts by a league MVP in the history of the sport.
On Saturday, Rondo suffered a grotesque dislocation of his left elbow in Game 3 of the Celtics’ series against James’ Heat. He was taken off the floor and into the trainers’ room, presumably with his season over. Incredibly, Rondo emerged from the room, his taped up arm hanging nearly lifeless at his side, re-entered the game and led the Celtics to a season-saving win ... over James.
Okay ... maybe there is something to this “karma” thing after all.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at email@example.com.