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Jackson Feels Loss of a Friend

Game 6 tonight doesn't seem so crucial as coach's former Knick teammate dies of heart attack at 62.

May 15, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

On Wednesday afternoon, in the same room where two days earlier he had rejoiced over what life had given him back, Phil Jackson frowned and would not hide his sadness over the passing of his friend, Dave DeBusschere.

While the basketball issues pile up on the Lakers, from Shaquille O'Neal's apparent balky knee to their three-games-to-two deficit in the Western Conference semifinals, neither are they free of that which lies outside of the game, DeBusschere dying of a heart attack even as Jackson's heart healed.

So they stood between games, the Lakers on the brink of elimination, the San Antonio Spurs a victory from advancing, before Game 6 of the series tonight at Staples Center. When reporters gathered in the tiny room off the gym in El Segundo, Jackson turned away from the tape of the Game 5 loss at San Antonio the night before, it frozen at the end of three quarters, the comeback yet to come, the shot yet to rim out.

The Laker drama grows, the trauma with it, and Jackson, in flannel shirt and jeans, looked tired and sorrowful.

"I know a lot of you have questions and an agenda that you'd like me to fulfill," he said. "But I'm not going to spend any time with you today. Today was a day that was very sad for me, [from] a personal standpoint, losing a friend and a teammate I played with for eight years, that I admired very much as a basketball player and as a person, in Dave DeBusschere."

Jackson then spoke for a minute or two about the game he had run and rerun, about the fourth quarter that would come, and then he arose and left, to view it again. These are trying days for the Lakers, trying to turn three championships into four, their roster thinning and training room filling along the way.

In El Segundo, Derek Fisher and Devean George took treatment for their sprained ankles, and Fisher's pinkie, dislocated the night before, was swollen and blue. A handful of players drifted in and out, Samaki Walker and Mark Madsen among them.

There was some concern about O'Neal's left knee after his so-so Game 5, but Gary Vitti, the team trainer, said, "Shaq's knee is going to be fine."

The Spurs, fourth-quarter jittery, stand just where the Sacramento Kings did a year ago. They know how that ended. They could check the banner. In their last three postseasons, the Lakers have come upon four elimination games and won them all, three against the Kings.

"That's why we're here," Fisher said. "We're professionals. So, whatever the work conditions call for, we're supposed to go in and get it done, no matter who it is, what it is, what time it is. Sacramento or San Antonio or whoever the opponent is, it doesn't really matter. It's about us. We need to focus in on tomorrow. That's the overriding thought here, that tomorrow is all there is. It's about Staples Center. It's about our crowd. It's about our energy. It's about loving what we do. It's about passion. It's about enjoying the moment. And, from there, it's an all-new ballgame. Until we do that, all the history stuff about who lost Game 5 and then getting to Game 7, none of that really matters until we take care of that tomorrow. That's where our heads will be."

The Lakers play to extend their little dynasty, if not as impressive as the Boston Celtics', at least into the weekend. They are sore and tired and injured, they are behind in the series, and they have never won at the SBC Center, the venue of the potential Game 7.

Jackson, who shortens playoff rotations, instead is 10 deep. O'Neal could have a sore left knee, and it is assumed he does, because halfway through the third quarter Tuesday night David Robinson had outrebounded him, in 10 fewer minutes.

On the way out of San Antonio after Game 5, Jackson answered a direct question about O'Neal's game directly, and it wasn't complimentary, and O'Neal grew surly. One small forward was due to get out of a New York hospital today, the other is limping, the point guard will play on a sprained ankle, and Jackson himself is practicing his serenity after an angioplasty five days ago.

The Lakers are playing for their postseason lives again, looking rattier than ever, falling out of and into games, being dragged along by Kobe Bryant and O'Neal. Yet, Bryant sat seemingly undaunted in the squall of another defeat in San Antonio, Robert Horry's reassuring cool among the last things to go now. Bryant's eyes were clear and his voice was crisp, his posture seen-it-all-done-it-all erect, as were his words.

"We win championships for a reason," he said. "We all have a fight inside of us. And I have a fight inside of me. You're not going to just roll over me and my teammates. I'm not going to let that happen. We could be down 20, 25 points, we're going to continue to fight. Game 6, we're going to give it our all. It's going to be tough for them to beat us. So, take care of business there, come up here in Game 7 and get ready to roll."

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