THE LAKERS ARE IN THE FINALS AGAIN!!!!
They're just not wearing the purple (Forum blue) and gold.
There's Shaquille O'Neal, MVP of three Laker championships, discarded by team owner Jerry Buss.
There's Pat Riley, the coach who directed the Lakers to four NBA titles and three other appearances in the championship series. Also discarded by Buss. In fact, that's a substantial part of the bond between Riley and his center, their ex-Buss employee status. Now they both work for the Miami Heat.
There's Del Harris, former Laker coach, now the primo assistant in Dallas, and, yes, you get the picture, also a former Buss employee. Harris says that Buss panicked in the late '90s, traded away Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones and broke up a team that was about to win a whole lot of championships. The reason? Buss didn't want to pay Campbell big money as a backup center, and he didn't want to give Jones a big pay raise.
Of course, it's hard to argue with what Buss did after he let Harris go (without health insurance, Harris says). He hired Phil Jackson and watched his Lakers win three straight titles.
Wait! There's more.
There's Gary Payton, who spent a year with the Lakers, struggling in Jackson's triangle offense, before seeing the team lose 4-1 to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 championship series. He's now a Miami reserve and apparently reasonably contented.
And there's Bob McAdoo, the former league MVP who came to Los Angeles and agreed to come off the bench as one of the best sixth men in league history. Now he's a dutiful assistant to his old Laker boss Riley.
If Shaq ever should want a tip, or just a bit of consolation, he's got McAdoo. It's rare to get advice like that, Shaq told me after he had spent some time in Miami.
When I asked him about coaching Shaq, McAdoo just smiled. O'Neal is not known for accepting a lot of advice, unless it's packaged with sweet nothings.
Yes, Laker fans, you have some old sweethearts in the championship series, so it's not like there's no rooting interest with the Heat and Mavericks squaring off as two first-time championship contenders.
In fact, you face some tough questions:
Root for Shaq, who would love to show Buss up?
Some would rather drink cockroach piss.
But think about it. He's a good guy, his conflict with Kobe aside (and now supposedly buried). He's a funny guy. And without him, there would not be those three championship banners, there would be no Laker revival.
Instead, Laker fans would have spent life in recent seasons much like Boston Celtics fans. Wondering when the drought would end and trying to hold onto graying memories.
Instead, Laker pride is high these days. As are hopes. The team last won a championship in 2002. It's a recent memory.
For that, you have big ole Shaq to thank.
So let bygones be bygones and let out a rip for the big fella.
After all, one of these days in the not too distant future, you're gonna be retiring his number to hang high in Staples.
He may have changed uniforms, but when everything is said and done, he's still your guy.
Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, The Inside Story Of The Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers In The Words Of Those Who Lived It, recently released on DVD by McGraw-Hill. Booklist said The Show "is the best book about the NBA since The Jordan Rules."