The Improbable Dream

    Je ne sais quoi.

    Which is French for “I don’t know.”

    Perhaps a light can be shed on “pour quoi?” on why…

    October 15, 1988. Dodger Stadium. A hobbled Kirk Gibson strode to the plate to pinch hit for reliever Alejandro Peña in Game 1 of the World Series against the Oakland Athletics. And as Dennis Eckersley worked the count full to 3-2, Gibson made contact and sent the ball soaring into the Right Field Pavilion.

    As Gibby limped around first base, pumping his fist in victory, longtime Dodgers Play-by-Play announcer Vin Scully made his legendary call:

    “In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!”

    Little did Vin know that those words would remain poignant and germane to the City’s basketball team two decades later.

    The Los Angeles Lakers have posted a 57-25 record and have earned the Western Conference’s number one seed.

    The very same Los Angeles Lakers that a mere seven months ago looked to be unraveling. Kobe Bryant was all but a Chicago Bull. Andrew Bynum was quickly becoming another High School bust (see Bender, Jonathan). Lamar Odom was dogged by injuries and inconsistency. To be honest, things in Lakerland looked awfully bleak.

    Then the preseason happened.

    Kobe appeared sullied and disinterested and Sasha like an 11 o’clock shooter.

    Vlad still came off as a space cadet.

    And Andrew looked like a frightened and timid 19 year-old.

    Probably because Andrew was a scared and timid 19 year-old.

    Young Bynum had no reason not to be defecating in his shorts. He had endured a summer in which his teammate told some dudes in a Newport Beach parking lot that the Front Office should have “shipped his ass out” long ago.

    Things did not get any better on Opening Night. Kobe was openly jeered by the Staples Center faithful. Houston’s Shane Battier hit a game winning three.

    The Lakers looked, and, in fact were, lamentable.

    How long would this futility last? Was it to be another first round exit? Or even worse: the Lottery.

    And then, suddenly, things began to change. The bench began to score in staggering numbers. Andrew Bynum began to blossom before our very eyes, posting double digits in points and rebounds, night in and night out.

    Sasha learned to shoot at 7:30.

    When Andrew’s knee fell victim to Lamar’s foot, Mitch Kupchak & Co. responded by sending the inefficacious Kwame Brown, the unproven Javaris Crittenton, and the retired Aaron McKie to purgatory, er, Memphis, in exchange for the All-Star Kobe had dreamed of in Pau Gasol.

    With every ill wind blown their way, these Lakers found a way to respond.

    A 9-game road trip? How about 7-2.

    Pau sprains an ankle? How about improbable road victories in Dallas and Utah.

    Kobe wants out of Los Angeles? How about an MVP season. The first season in his venerated career that he truly made all of his teammates better.

    Phil Jackson called the 2003-04 incarnation of the Lakers “a team in search of its soul”; the 2007-08 Lakers are the team that found the strength and the passion within each other.

    Each member of this roster, fifteen deep, has a remarkable story.

    A 17-year old Didier Ilunga Mbenga was stopped on a Belgian street corner by basketball guru Willy Steveniers, who offered to teach him the game of basketball, the only roadblock being Didier had never touched a basketball in his life.

    Ira Newble is a crusader in the NBA community for awareness of China’s growing involvement in the Darfur region of Sudan.

    Vladimir Radmanovic was born into civil war in the former Yugoslavia. He never truly had a home as a child, constantly darting around the country in fear for his life.

    Luke Walton, the son of Hall of Famer Bill, grew up a green and white bleeding Celtics fan whose keen passing abilities and unrivaled basketball IQ make him an invaluable contributer.

    Sasha Vujacic transformed himself from an inconsistent baby-faced gelled-up Slovenian, into a Three-Point assassin and pesky defender (think Danny Ainge gone Hollywood) who looks more like a kid in line at the Troubadour for some Indie Rock show than one of the NBA’s most improved players.

    Chris Mihm, who has been hampered by injuries, finally returned to action after a tedious recovery period in which he missed all of last season and most of this one.

    The lionhearted Ronny Turiaf, an islander from Martinique, who three years ago was faced with open-heart surgery and a career in doubt. He rallied and has become one of the Lakers most beloved players and ferocious defenders.

    The homegrown success of Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, both products of the Los Angeles Unified School District and UCLA, has allowed these Angelenos to flourish in front of their friends and family, wearing the Purple and Gold they dreamt of as children.

    Coby Karl, the son of Denver Nuggets coach George Karl overcame Thyroid cancer a mere year ago. The undrafted Karl is the Lakers’ only Rookie on the roster.

    Lamar Odom, who lost his infant son almost two years ago, has finally overcome his ineptitude and found himself reborn on the court, while he proudly displays the name “Jayden” lovingly scripted across his chest as a constant reminder of his heartbreak.

    Pau Gasol, the goat of the City of Memphis for the last three seasons, and the face of Spanish basketball, has come to Los Angeles, the city with the number one Latino population in the United States. Not only was he instantly accepted into the Laker family, but was heralded as a hero in the City of Angels.

    Derek Fisher, who’s story is that of folk legend by now, leaving the Utah Jazz last summer to return the City that embraced him as a Rookie from Arkansas in order to find better care for his ailing (now recovering!) daughter Tatum.

    The tale of Andrew Bynum, the 20-year-old wunderkind who blossomed far ahead of schedule, most likely due to the gauntlet Kobe Bryant threw at him last summer.

    And, oh, yeah, having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as his Coach did not hurt his development either.

    And then there is Kobe. Kobe Bean Bryant vowed to never wear a Laker uniform again. Kobe Bean Bryant was BOOED on Opening Night. Kobe Bean Bryant all but extended a giant middle finger to the City and the fans that adore and deify him. Kobe Bean Bryant who finally learned how to make his teammates better. Kobe Bean Bryant who, at last, absorbed the concept of not just being the most talented player on the team, but leading them into battle, night in and night out. Kobe Bean Bryant who is on his way to his first career Most Valuable Player award in recognition not for his career résumé, as some critics postulate, but for commendation on becoming the player not even Kobe knew he could be.

    If you do not sense something special happening here, than you may be blind, caught in the throes of Ducks Playoff fever, or a jaded Clippers fan.

    This group of fifteen exemplifies what it means to be a team. They have come together from all ends of the Earth (Literally. The Lakers are like a Model U.N., with players from six different countries) for a common goal: the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

    Although it appears that this quest begins on Sunday against Denver, it actually commenced long ago in the beginning of October. This odyssey has survived kneecap subluxations. It has endured Kwame. It saw 73 bench points against Chicago. The crusade has witnessed Kobe to Pau, Derek’s comeback, Rambis’ mustache and Phil’s Christmas bowtie.

    Sunday begins the next chapter. New memories to be made, new banners to dream about.

    Who knows? Maybe Spero will be inspired by his Chavez Ravine counterpart and realize that in this year that has been improbable, the impossible can happen.

    • e-bucher

      XD

    • ballerv8

      Great article.
      I remember that bow-tie. wow. even Jeanie couldn’t figure out why.

    • http://mrsfox411@aol.com FOXXY

      I BELIEVE IN THIS LAKER TEAM….IM SO EXCITED!!!!!

    • varsityoptimism

      [Comment ID #33094 Will Be Quoted Here]

      Petros and Money asked him to do it!

    • http://thelakersation.com/blog PauKobeBynumDynasty

      Great article…one of the best that i have seen on TLN
      Where did get the info about each of the players?

    • Keep Odom

      Varsity Optimism..great article. The best part is that although I believe the Lakers will win it all you also put a new perspective as to why so many fans are emotionally attached to the Lakers. But, the thought of the Lakers not winning it all is a horrible feeling. In the past I hated Not being in the mood to talk to anyone the day after they have been eliminated. I hated the feeling of going to work and hearing Laker haters come to my desk rejoicing that the Lakers didn’t win and me holding back from not smacking them and giving them a beat down. But you have given me hope. Thank you!

    • RC

      Great summation of the Laker season. The only thing not mentioned is the cookie jar mailed out to season ticket holders!

      I look forward to an excellent playoff series which I hope ends with a final playoff with the Boston Celtics.

      Go Lakers! let’s “take care of business” and put another banner in the rafters!

    • xtro

      I’d rather hear “Estamos Aqui!!!!!!!!”
      Vamos Lakers!!

    • DCLAKER

      I have to take it one game at a time. I don’t even want to look passed The Nuggets before “WE” even play’em.

    • adJeff

      Another Great Article, Brought tears to this lifelong Laker fans eyes!
      (And Varsityoptimism Dad)

    • http://myspace.com/g10van1 Giovanni Ong

      OH MAN….EACH PLAYERS HAVE GOOD AND SAD STRORIES……

      this is the best article that i have read here on TLN.com

      WE believe in this laker team……

      its just not kobe who has the desire to win now….
      the killer instinct……
      the passion for the game……

      the whole team does…..

      WE are ready….

      bynum is still out…..but WE believe…..
      he will be back…..
      ariza is out too…..but WE believe…..
      he will be back…..

      WE going to dominate through out the whole post-season…..
      cuz WE believe…….

      goin’ all the way……
      cuz WE believe……..

      !!!this is OUR year!!!
      cuz WE believe….
      WE can feel it……

      WE bleed purple and gold…
      nothing else…..

      OHHH MANNNNN………

      IF YOU ARE A TRUE/DIE HARD LAKER FAN LIKE ME…..beleive……

      -myspace.com/g10van1

    • varsityoptimism

      [Comment ID #33108 Will Be Quoted Here]

      thanks pop!

    • lakerz

      even though the celtics had the bigest turn around(record wise) the lakers have a bigger story to tell.

    • http://www.laballtalk.com LA Ball Talk

      Nice article. this season has really been one to remember and the playoffs are yet to begin… o what an experience we are in for!!

      Daniel – http://www.laballtalk.com

    • Reggie

      I get tired of people talking about Luke’s basketball IQ! For somebody so smart why does he always, no constantly makes dumb decisions. Oh yeah great basketball IQ.

    • LA4LIFE

      Great article. Hats off to varsityoptimism.
      Just one thing to note : Je ne sais quoi means i don’t know what (it is missing “pas” or you can simply put “pas” instead of “quoi”)

    • varsityoptimism

      [Comment ID #33115 Will Be Quoted Here]

      from now on you will be my french advisor.

    • omglakers

      “Sasha learned to shoot at 7:30.”

      haha.

    • nyla

      Great article! Ya didn’t save much for after we win the championship though!

    • Majic “Big” Johnson

      Niice!!

    • http://lakers.com Billy Kupchak

      [Comment ID #33114 Will Be Quoted Here]
      i think luke does better if he is a starter, last year he was a starter and he did really good, and this year, because is is not starting, he is doing worse, radmanovic is visa versa

      last year radmanovic just couldn’t do it. now he is a starter and he is doing much better, although it may have been the gasol trade that made him better

      however i think we have 2 many small forwards Ariza, luke, radman, ira, lamar, and even kobe

    • drake hunter

      Everytime I see Kobe poppin his jersey, I shed tears of joy and pride in my eyes being a Laker Fan! Handle It Son!!!!!

    • http://thelakersnation.com ThE NeXt FaRmAr 5

      WE GOING TO THE SHIP, WE GOING TO THE SHIP, WE GOING TO THE SHIP YYYYAAAAAAHHHHHHH GO LAKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • LakersSanDiego

      Don’t take a second of this for granted Laker fans. Remember a few short years ago when you would give your back teeth for just the #8 seed?

    • http://k1k0.com KiKosDad

      off topic…

      http://minneapolis.craigslist.org/eve/646549956.html

      To all my fellow Lakers Nation in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area..

      Let’s witness the start of our Lakers Dynasty …together!!!

      Playoffs Sunday 2pm CT

    • KONG!

      [Comment ID #33123 Will Be Quoted Here]

      Luke is just trash. Really, I dont mean to be talk shi.t but that guy is is just terrible.

      GO LAKERS~! PARTY ON FIGUEROA!

    • gugy

      Luke, Mihn and Vlad should be trade next season.
      Let’s bring some serious D into this team.

      Go Lakers!

    • Jack

      [Comment ID #33134 Will Be Quoted Here]

      is it really the right time to talk about this? is it really??

      btw, what a gr8 article. if this doesn’t get any laker fan for playoffs, nothing will.

      there will only be one: LAKERS.

    • Smush Walton

      The biggest improvements we made were finally unloading the Original Smush, “Cookie”, and the utterly worthless piece of dung Kwame.

      For next year the key areas for improvent are Luke, Vlad and Mihm.

    • Keep Odom

      I know that because of the playoffs no one wants to hear any negativity..but c’mon:

      This is all I am going to say: Farmar, Bynum, Turiaf and Sasha all of their salaries equal about 5.7 in 2008. Hell! Luke and Vlad’s individual contracts each come close to that. Luke (4 mil) Vlad(5.6) Mihm (2.5). I mean for Turiaf to make less than a million ($770,610)and for Luke to be getting 4 mil. That is insane!

      C’mon LUUUUUKE! Prove us all wrong!

      Go Lakers 2008 Champs!

    • Brittany

      I have to throw in there, as a Laker fan and as an intern for a Non-profit Aid STill Required, that almost the entire Laker team has given their support to us as a group working towards continuing aid to the Darfur, Katrina and Tsunami victims.

      As a former UCLA athlete, its amazing to watch players with such incredible status use their influence to take a stand and to raise awareness on world events…

      These men are now emerging not only as basketball stars, but as the heros all us Americans long to have. And I think all of them for reaching out in a time of need.

      Let them inspire you to make a difference as well.

    • berks_kb24

      six countries in one team on top!means teamwork and led by sure MVP in d name of KOBE.thats an mvp how can you lead a team whch has a player with dffrnt language.thats kobe the smartest player in d game.thats why LAKERS is the WORLD CHAMPION of 2008……………

    • berks_kb24

      oh i just found out!
      without any disresfect BOSTON all americans
      VS
      international team the LAKERS

      HERSHEYS chocolates VS STARBUCKS COFEE w/ MILK

    • berks_kb24

      oh i just found out!
      without any disresfect BOSTON all americans
      VS
      international team the LAKERS

      HERSHEYS chocolates VS STARBUCKS COFEE w/ MILK

      i forgott opefully next season we have d DIMSUM(sun yue)

    • http://www.lakers-life.com Ryan.G

      Man I cant wait for the Lakers to pound the Nuggets. Its going to be awsome.

    • 1Slowturner

      Dear, Varsity Opt,
      Put this article “in the frig” “The eggs are cooling & the butters getting hard” Loved the way you tied in the great moment of Kirk Gibson & Vin. Reminded me of another great sports writter in L.A.just so happens he was the best writter since Them Bums beat the Yankees in 63

      Jim Murray, was able to bring sports figures from the paper to life. Looks like you posses the same.(my bad, from the monitor to life. So far)

      Great article!

      RJK

    • varsityoptimism

      [Comment ID #33165 Will Be Quoted Here]

      that means the world to me! robs #1!!

    • DCLAKER

      I just wanna say……POP OFF KOBE,POP OFF JUST A LIL’BIT!I goin’ on YOUTUBE right now to watch that dunk just to get amped(especially when Stu GOES OFF,”POP OFF KOBE”)!

      I think Luke WILL prove us wrong.

    • gugy

      I do hope so DCLAKER!

      I wish Luke and all players the best. Maybe there is a reason after all that PJ likes him so much. Maybe he will come out and play his best.

      Go Lakers!

    • playdefense

      hahaha skip bayless on espn first take this morning said that the lakers were going to lose in 7 games to the nuggets. one of the stu brothers said the same thing. are they insane?????? i hope the lakers DESTROY THEM in 4 four games and shut up all the people who hate on the lakers.

    • Emma

      Hate to be a pedant, but…

      http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000207.htm

      (It’s a pet peeve of mine. Sorry.)

    • varsityoptimism

      skip bayless is the ultimate contrarian.

    • http://myspace.com/hzm hZm

      Great read Varsity!

    • varsityoptimism

      [Comment ID #33173 Will Be Quoted Here]

      …wow…just wow.

    • DingleBerry

      [Comment ID #33173 Will Be Quoted Here]

      Get a life!!!!!!!

    • http://myspace.com/plummerrocks Machinehead18

      Wow this post is amazing. Good job varsityoptimism.

      The Lakers are gonna get it done this year.

      Lakers=07-08 Champs!

    • AnthonY MusiQ

      Great Post bro… Really got me pumped! Lakers #1 and ’til death do us part….

    • DCLAKER

      It’s all a game to PISS OFF KOBE,and WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN KOBE IS PISSED!

      DROP81ON’EM.com,Lakers go down in 7? In that case Hallie Berry is goin’ down on me right now,WHO WANTS SLOPPY SECONDS,GET IT!!!

    • LA_dreamz

      Just trade Luke Walton and Chris Mihm next season.Get Mickael Pietrus and maybe Channing Frye of Wilcox.maybe get a very good sophie or rookie point guard in the draft likeShan Foster.he’s good,man.

    • http://myspace.com/cymraegspirit CymraegSpirit

      [Comment ID #33108 Will Be Quoted Here]

      Hey, ADJeff – an old friend (and more-recent Laker fan) from FL is looking for you…at least, I’m pretty sure it’s you.