LOS ANGELES -- The difference between then and now is conveyed by
Now he wastes little time worrying. After he sees teammate
This NBA Finals rematch of the Lakers and Celtics will not pick up where the last one left off, because too much has changed. But the outcome and consequences of 2008 live on to define each team and all of its important players. This may be the most important result: That after the 39-point loss to finish off the Lakers in Game 6 at Boston, Bryant turned into himself. Over the last two years, he has shown decreasing concern for what teammates and others might think while he has simply demanded excellence in pursuit of the larger team goals.
He commands without fear of hurt feelings. He understands that winning is the motherhood of popularity, and that each championship justifies the means. He has discovered his own form of sincerity -- cursing in postgame interviews, making crass comments, no longer seeking to emulate the universally beloved personality of
The difference between then and now is conveyed by
The dynamic between the point and his teammates has changed altogether since then. The Celtics appeared to be aging exponentially this season as
"I want to feel that way," said Rondo when asked if he is extending the careers of his elder teammates. "I want those guys to play for an even longer time. I want them to feel like, 'If I play with Rondo I'll play a couple of more years -- it's not as much wear-and-tear on my body as it was for years before; I don't have to work as hard for my shots, he's giving me easier looks; I don't have to create every shot for myself because he's doing it for me; I just have to stand over here and knock the shot down.' If they're thinking that, then it will put a couple of more years on their careers."
Will it put another ring on their fingers?
The difference is conveyed by Paul Pierce, who needs to win another championship to join the numerous Celtic legends who rank ahead of him. Two years ago, he was Finals MVP at the expense of
It is just as surely conveyed by Artest, the one player in either team's rotation who does not own a championship ring. The Lakers' ambition is measured by their willingness to gamble on signing Artest last summer, knowing he would be needed in a potential Finals rematch against Pierce.
It is conveyed by Garnett, who has worked too hard over the last year to rehabilitate his knee for the work to go to waste.
It is conveyed by Bynum, injured for a third straight postseason -- and absent from the '08 Finals -- who has put off knee surgery in hope of making an impact this time.
It is conveyed by Ray Allen and
Can the Celtics match the hunger of their opponents? The Lakers' ambition to atone makes them the antagonists in this drama, the aggressors. The individual circumstances have changed over the last two years, but the larger dynamic is no different than it was in the eras of