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BILL PLASCHKE

One by one at ring ceremony, the Lakers show they are a team

Heartfelt introductions of each other lend a personal air to proceedings celebrating their championship, and the hugs show the closeness the players feel for each other.

October 27, 2010|Bill Plaschke
  • Kobe Bryant prepares to give point guard Derek Fisher a hug after Fisher introduced the Lakers' All-Star guard during the ring ceremony on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant prepares to give point guard Derek Fisher a hug after Fisher… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

There were diamond mines and video dunks and a new scoreboard the size of my next-door neighbor's house.

But on this giant of nights, the Lakers touched us by going small.

Amid the sweeping gestures that appropriately accompanied the return of the two-time defending NBA champions to Staples Center on Tuesday, the Lakers were all about a hug.

A hug from Luke Walton to Lamar Odom … a hug from Odom to Ron Artest … a hug from Artest to Andrew Bynum …

On and on it went, from player to player, each one introducing and praising one of his teammates, bringing him to the floor to receive superman jewelry with a human touch.

It was an opening night championship ring ceremony that celebrated the ring the players have formed with each other, the jewel that is their teamwork, the bling of their mutual respect.

Have you seen it yet? You should see it. You should check out the video now, while your mind is still filled with images of the gaudy Miami Heat acting like a bunch of dazed freelancers in their opening night loss in Boston.

You should see it now, while you still remember last season, and can use the ceremony to explain how it happened.

A hug from Bynum to Pau Gasol … a hug from Gasol to Sasha Vujacic … a hug from Vujacic to Shannon Brown …

The Lakers were champions because they were connected, and Tuesday's memorable ceremony put a face on that connection while giving voice to its strength.

The team later put some numbers to that connection by storming back from a 15-point deficit to storm past the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter in a 112-110 victory. Kobe Bryant was clearly hobbled and Derek Fisher was barely moving, yet Gasol was huge, while Brown and newcomer Steve Blake hit big shots to save them.

It was a victory about depth of roster that followed a pregame ceremony about depth of spirit. What will remain from Tuesday are the images of a Lakers team whose strength comes not from the glitter outside, but from the closeness within.

A hug from Brown to Fisher … a hug from Fisher to Bryant … a hug from Bryant to owner Jerry Buss.

The idea for the ceremony came from a recent discussion between Tim Harris, the team's thoughtful vice president who conjures up most of their pregame magic, and Fisher and Bryant.

Harris asked the Lakers leaders how they could stage a ceremony that best epitomized the reason for last season's success.

"They told me it was all about what happened in that locker room," said Harris. "We had to figure out a way to let the fans see that."

Once Harris decided upon unscripted introductions between players, he had to sell it to the NBA, which aired the ceremony on national cable television.

The NBA was worried the players might excitedly curse. Harris crossed his fingers that they wouldn't. The NBA was worried that the players might try to sell something. Harris knew that the sentiment was more important than the shill.

"In talking to the team, you could see that these guys are very important to each other, and they were going to respect the moment," Harris said.

So it began with Phil Jackson cracking a sweet joke about Luke Walton, handing him his ring, then stepping aside to let the players take over.

Walton praised Odom's worth ethic. Odom talked about playing with Artest since they were children. Artest called Bynum a "warrior."

Bynum spoke of Gasol as a leader. Gasol shouted about Vujacic sinking two of the biggest free throws in Lakers history. Vujacic talked about Brown's energetic impact.

Brown referred to Fisher as the team president. Fisher referred to Bryant as the best player in the NBA. And Bryant referred to Buss as the best owner in team sports history.

Each of the hugs that followed the introductions were long, heartfelt, more real than a starting lineup chest bump or fist tap, filled with such emotion that it seemed some of the Lakers' players' eyes grew wet.

For the record, I have seen Bryant in hundreds of on-court embraces, but never have I seen him joyfully hug someone like he hugged Fisher.

"The fans saw the players as they had never seen them,'' said Harris. "The players let us all in.''

Immediately after the hugging stopped, friends were texting me that it was the best ring ceremony they have ever seen.

"What a team,'' wrote neighbor Sam. "Call me a homer. I love 'em.''

"Now that was a class ceremony,'' wrote buddy Barry, who lives in Dallas and hates the Lakers. "Compared to the Heat and Celtics, the Lakers looked like a bunch of choir boys.''

When the ceremony ended, Artest took the microphone and presided over the unveiling of the championship banner, pointing to the Staples Center wall where the yellow victory flag would supposedly unfurl.

It was at this point that the Lakers committed the evening's first turnover, a mistake that made the pregame ceremonies absolutely perfect.

Ron-Ron pointed to the wrong wall.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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