LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers unveiled their latest NBA championship banner Tuesday night on the west wall of Staples Center and got their rings handed to them by Commissioner David Stern.
Then they were nearly handed a large dose of humility by the Houston Rockets before erasing a 15-point deficit and pulling out a 112-110 victory.
“It was an emotional night for them, so we knew that if we jumped on them early, we’d have a shot to steal this one,” said Rockets forward Shane Battier. “But they showed a lot of resolve. They’re the team to beat, and the road to the championship still goes through them.”
Sometimes, all this ring-ceremony hoopla can become a distraction. In their 11 banner unveilings in Los Angeles, the Lakers have lost four times — twice during the “Showtime” era, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson were the marquee names.
In 1985, Cleveland beat Pat Riley’s squad after they had begun the defense of its title with a 4-0 road trip. In 1982, Golden State administered a 132-117 pounding at the Forum — the worst loss by a defending NBA champion on banner night until 2006, when the Riley-coached Heat got trounced 108-66 by Chicago.
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, who matched Abdul-Jabbar’s and Magic Johnson’s Laker ring totals with their fifth each, got their first one the same night they lost to Utah 97-92 in November 2000. Two years later, they celebrated their three-peat right before San Antonio beat them 97-92.
“You tell ’em to go enjoy the ring ceremony and then get down to work. It’s not always possible to get focused again,” said coach Phil Jackson, who won six titles as coach in Chicago after winning two as a player with New York in the early 1970s.
Nine players remaining from last season’s triumph over the Boston Celtics took part in Tuesday’s ceremony. After Jackson was presented with his 11th championship ring as an NBA head coach and fifth with Los Angeles, Bryant and Fisher followed their teammates one by one to midcourt to a thunderous ovation.
Bryant was the Finals MVP for the second time in his career after winning the honors the previous year against the Orlando Magic.
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Bryant told the roaring sellout crowd. “But none of this would have been possible without the greatest team owner in team sports. So please give it up for Jerry Buss.”
The 76-year-old Buss, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in August, designed the ring, according to Jackson. The cost of each was not divulged, but the effort that went into creating them suggests its exorbitant value could probably eclipse any before it.
The uniqueness of it has to do with a piece of leather from the game ball from Game 7 of the finals, which was attached to the underside of each ring. The front features a circumference of 16 oversized white diamonds representing the franchise’s 16 NBA titles, and two championship trophies made of 16-karat gold. On one side is a three-dimensional likeness of the player receiving it.
Abdul-Jabbar, who attended the ceremony, acknowledged that the size and price of his rings has been dwarfed by the ones of this generation.
“I think that’s just a function of the fact that the game has become so popular and it’s become a major part of what people see as entertainment. So everything around it has gotten more extravagant — and in some cases, outlandish,” the Hall of Famer and NBA all-time points leader said with a smile.
After Lamar Odom received his ring, all eyes were fixed on enigmatic forward Ron Artest, who four weeks ago made the stunning announcement that he would raffle off his first championship ring on Christmas Day when the two-time defending champs host LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
Artest, an All-Star with the Pacers in 2003-04, will be putting his expensive bauble up for bids to raise money for mental health counseling in schools — something he received for a few months at age 13 before the funding for that program dried up. He’s already turned down flat offers ranging from $50,000 and $100,000 for the ring.
Artest, whose checkered NBA career included a brawl with fans during a game at Detroit, scored 20 points in the clinching game against the Celtics — including a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of the 83-79 victory at Staples Center.
“I’m really happy for him,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s been through a heck of a lot the last few years and he’s had to keep some discipline in him. And coming in here with the world champs, he was able to fit in and get a ring. I always felt he was going to do just fine once he fit in and everything. Number one, Ron respected the guys on the Laker team, especially Kobe and Gasol, and he was going to do whatever it took for that team to win.”
The Lakers eventually will get rings to four players no longer in purple and gold — Jordan Farmar (New Jersey), Josh Powell (Atlanta), D.J. Mbenga (New Orleans) and Adam Morrison (waived by Washington).