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Good Old Boys
Leigh Montville
June 01, 1998
Led by geezers Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz swept the young, overhyped Lakers to make the NBA Finals once again
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June 01, 1998

Good Old Boys

Led by geezers Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz swept the young, overhyped Lakers to make the NBA Finals once again

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Three for the Show

While the Jazz got increased offense from three young role players in the West finals, production by three young Lakers mainstays slipped compared with their regular-season numbers.

 

REGULAR SEASON

CONFERENCE FINALS

PLAYER, POSITION

PTS.

FG PCT.

PTS.

FG PCT.

Jazz

Bryon Russell, F

9.0

.430

11.3

.519

Shandon Anderson, F

8.3

.538

8.3

.583

Howard Eisley, G

7.7

.441

7.8

.542

Lakers

Eddie Jones, G-F

16.9

.484

15.0

.412

Kobe Bryant. G

15.4

.428

10.0

.367

Nick Van Exel.G

13.8

.419

9.0

.238

The final speaker at the final press conference of the Western Conference finals was Los Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris. He was wearing a black double-breasted suit and a white shirt and a black tie, and he looked for all the world like a well-dressed funeral director who had arrived to console the bereaved. His words and disposition did nothing to change the image.

Late Sunday afternoon, no more than 20 minutes after the last Laker Girl had done her last cartwheel of the season, after the Great Western Forum crowd had groaned its last groan, after the Utah Jazz had swept—swept!—his team, Harris spoke in a gentle voice. He was philosophical. "There are some lessons you only can learn by failure," he said. "Your dad can tell you certain things, but until you have the experience yourself, you don't understand."

The suit, the tie, the words—it was as if Harris had prepared in advance for this final appraisal, which followed Utah's 96-92 series-clinching victory. Things had fallen apart that much. In nine days and four games, his high-flying Lakers had been exploited, exposed, dominated. That was the word: dominated. It had happened in front of his eyes. No warnings to his players had worked. No subtle changes in strategy. No fatherly advice. Nothing.

"We're all the same way," Harris continued in that same voice. "We have to experience for ourselves. There's not a single person here who didn't touch that stove at least once. We all touched it."

Touch the stove and what happens? Touch it four times and what happens? You go home with your Shaquille O'Neal and your Kobe Bryant and your Eddie Jones and your Nick Van Exel. You go home with your highest-scoring offense in the NBA, your high-wire act, your basketball team of the future.

"To be successful you have to go through disappointment," Harris went on. "Read all the great biographies. They tell about people who failed all the time, who got knocked down and got back up. No one has a free ride to success. Look at the Utah Jazz. Ten years ago, they were the ones who got flushed."

He looked at his audience—20 sports-writers spread across maybe 100 folding chairs because the rest of the media pack had moved along to talk to other heads. Was anybody listening? Harris looked tired. There was no doubt about who had gotten flushed here.

A sweep. Who had figured a sweep? It all had a certain logic now, the virtues of experience and ambition stacked against youth and not as much ambition, but wasn't it only two or three weeks ago that Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl called Shaq "the best player in the NBA right now"? Weren't the fuses being lit for that grand L.A.-Chicago Finals that was going to cut across the sky and all demographics, the show of shows?

A sweep? One of the five most stunning playoff routs ever (box, page 41)? "The only time I ever thought about a sweep, I thought about us sweeping them," Lakers reserve forward Corie Blount said, speaking for the statistical majority. "I thought about Chicago and a sweep, but I couldn't see the Bulls sweeping us, either. I couldn't see anybody sweeping this team."

This wasn't so much a sweep as a deconstruction of the wildly hyped Lakers, piece by gaudy piece. Substance 4, Style 0. From the first afternoon in Salt Lake City—when L.A. was still caught up in the buzz of its five-game semifinals win over the Sonics and was routed by Utah 112-77—this was one of those old-time basketball morality plays. High school coaches will be blabbing about this series for the next decade.

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