Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lakers get their rings

"It will be a unique ceremony, with a format meant to reflect the deeper bonds that go into being back-to-back NBA champions. After Lakers coach Phil Jackson receives his championship ring, he will take the Staples Center public-address microphone and do a brief, self-scripted introduction of the first Lakers player. Each player will come forward to receive his ring - and then perform his own individual introduction for the next player."

So that's how the Lakers will get their rings tonight when they open the season against Houston. This could be entertaining, or a disaster, or disastrously entertaining. You know the wedding ceremonies where bride and groom pen their own vows and they're filled with bad, possibly plagiarized poetry, romantic cliches and inside jokes? That's going to be the Lakers tonight.

Who will Jackson introduce first? Kobe Bryant seems like the obvious choice, but last year the team introduced him last, the honor that usually goes to a team's star. So maybe Jackson introduces veteran point guard Derek Fisher first and it eventually concludes with Pau Gasol speaking Spanish and bringing Bryant out to receive the ring. Last year the Lakers had legends from the team's past on-hand to give the current players their jewelry. It all seems a bit complicated tonight, with a lot of room for error. After the game, depending on the result, editors at websites and newspapers can use the occasion to break out ring headlines.

"Lakers ring in new year with big victory"
"New season has familiar ring"

If Houston wins, the ring headlines still work:
"Rockets run rings around Lakers"

The Lakers have occasionally struggled on ring night. In the 1982-83 home opener, the Lakers lost 132-117 to Golden State. Three years later, before the start of the 1986 season, lowly Cleveland crushed the Lakers 129-111 in the home opener. The Lakers also lost their home opener in the 2000-01 season and at the start of the 2002-03 season.

During the Showtime era, the Lakers had the perfect master of ceremonies: Chick Hearn. Chick lorded over the ceremonies when the Lakers received their rings for the 1987 championship. On this night, LA edged Seattle 113-109, the first game in a season that ended with the Lakers becoming the first repeat champions in the NBA since the 1969 Celtics.

David Stern was of course in attendance, looking like a 12-year-old nerd who just came from a meeting of the physics club. Chick provides the introductions. "A man who has improved as much as anyone in the NBA this year...Mike Smrek."

Chick Hearn: legendary announcer, broadcasting pioneer, star of Fletch, and blatant liar, at least with that one statement. To be fair, Smrek - who, while proving that you shouldn't always use rings as a barometer of greatness, has two more rings than John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing - did improve. He upped his average from 2.2 points per game in 1987 to 2.8 in 1988.

Byron Scott gets his ring and Michael Cooper collects his, as does the "hardest working" player - and future beleaguered coach - Kurt Rambis. Kareem ends it with a short speech thanking the late-arriving fans. Like everything in sports, the ceremony from 1987 was shorter and simpler than today's theatrics. The lights even stayed on at The Forum for most of the ceremony. It's probably for the best that the players didn't have to introduce each other back then. What could Mychal Thompson have said when introducing, say, Smrek?

"No one gets up from his seat quicker during 20-second timeouts than this guy. And the screens this guy sets in practice."

The season starts tonight and so do my screams. Louise will cower in the bedroom, wondering "Why don't you ever say anything encouraging to them on the TV? Why do you only criticize?"

I'll be calm tonight. I'll take in Phil Jackson's speech and Ron Artest's gesture of appreciation toward his shrink. It's my favorite time of the sports year, the start of basketball season. It's a new season, and as long as this one ends just like the past one, I'll have no reason to throw anything at the television. And I can't wait for the bad poetry.

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