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Quarter Haunts the Trail Blazers


The clock was just kidding. It said 0:00, signaling an ending, but it was just kidding.

The fourth quarter of the Portland-Laker game of Sunday, June 4, 2000, lives on--still the unmentionable elephant in the corner of the room. See it? It still hovers at Staples Center, above yet another Trail Blazer-Laker gathering, above the Laker poise that rules another series but might have looked different if that fourth quarter had.

Steve Smith, so hot in the third quarter that day, plays in Texas, yet that fourth quarter breathes on.

Arvydas Sabonis, so bumptious with Shaquille O'Neal that Western Conference final series, lives so far away he's living night while we're living day, yet that fourth quarter breathes on.

Coach Mike Dunleavy pops up in the stands at Duke games or in Boston wearing earphones next to Bob Costas, yet that fourth quarter breathes on.

That 12-minute little swatch of shock did more than rally the Lakers from a 15-point deficit, clinch Game 7, arrange their first NBA title since Magic Johnson started wearing slacks to work, and funnel them toward a mini-dynasty threatening to drop the mini.

It gave birth.

Out of its chaos came the shouting sense of invincibility the Lakers carry around the court these days, their second-most important advantage behind O'Neal. Sure, their 2001 title only deepened their stripe of cocksureness, but its birth certificate would read June 4, 2000.

Similarly, it's easy to forget the Lakers' image before June 4: playoff knuckleheads. Their exclamation points of today still bent like question marks then. While Coach Phil Jackson doesn't draw the line as neatly between June 2000 and April 2002--he views that quarter as anomaly--he does say, "It gave us a belief that we could overcome obstacles."

Busy as could be, it also reinforced a sports axiom: To reach the wide boulevards of victory parades, teams so often must squeeze through incredibly narrow hallways--you know, show a little Houdini.

Check the recent Super Bowl tournament for details. Look at most any March Madness. See the 1996 World Series, how a single Jim Leyritz three-run homer erased an eighth-inning deficit, helped New York catch Atlanta at two games all, helped the new Yankees realize their know-how.

Life is tough enough when somebody has scary pitching or Shaquille O'Neal, without the added trump card of the know-how.

The Lakers lead the Trail Blazers, 1-0, their fans chant, "Three-peat!" and nobody thinks they'll lose, least of all themselves. How different might things look? Who knows, but the mind does wonder and wander--back to one thrilling, haunting little quarter that pretty much altered league history, that's all.

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