The Los Angeles Lakers will look to do what the Chicago Bulls couldn’t after the retirement of Michael Jordan. Not the first time Jordan left and wanted to become the next Barry Bonds, but the final time he walked away. After Kobe Bryant retired in 2016, the Lakers finally felt what so many other teams in their position did. They were lost.
In 1998, the Bulls had no other choice but to go in a new direction. The man who rescued the franchise from the abyss was gone and the outlook for the future was grim. Along the way, the torch was passed around. Even Scottie Pippen tried his hand at being the savior but no such luck. With Pippen off to Portland, the Bulls had their fair share of wanna-be successors.
The Bulls fielded teams that were led by players such as Dickey Simpkins, Toni Kukoc, Pete Myers, Elton Brand, and Ben Gordon. But it wasn’t until 2010 that everything changed. The Chicago Bulls would pull a Cleveland Cavaliers number and draft a hometown kid who would lead the team out of their misery and into a new era away from the Jordan days.
Derrick Rose would lead the Bulls to five straight playoff appearance while winning the NBA MVP in the process. The Bulls were the darlings of the NBA during that period but just as fast as success came, it went just as quick. Thanks to injuries, the Bulls and Rose were never able to make it to the NBA Finals. While one of the best teams during that span, they had nothing to show for their achievements.
On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Lakers are going through something similar after the retirement of Kobe Bryant. The difference with the Lakers is, they had their future set with D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram. Much like the Bulls before them, the Lakers went young but still, they have struggled without Bryant.
With Magic Johnson now handling most of the day-to-day operations, the Lakers, although not homegrown like Rose, are heading in a new direction with a former MVP–LeBron James. Will James be the player to help restore the Lakers’ lore? The Lakers are banking on James along with vets such as Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Lance Stephenson to do exactly that.
What makes this Lakers team so different than the post-Jordan Bulls is that they have the veteran leadership the Rose-led Bulls didn’t. No one on the post-Bulls roster has won as LeBron has. While the Lakers are spearheaded by the former MVP, they still have youth on their side with Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kuzma.
While Rose and the Bulls had to deal with the Cavs and Celtics, the Lakers will need to find a way around the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
Now, while some pressure was on the post-Jordan teams to restore greatness, these Lakers are not only chasing history but ghosts as well. Rose is Chicago born and raised. His drive was different from what LeBron and the young Lakers are dealing with. It’s one thing to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan, but something entirely different to uplift your city.
With the Lakers struggling since Bryant scored 60 and walked away, Johnson and Jeanie Buss knew they had to do something major. LeBron has more pressure to win than Rose did even in his hometown. To add more fuel to the fire is that LeBron, despite his rings, is still playing in the shadow of Kobe. Rose didn’t have the luxury of going toe-to-toe with Jordan while Kobe and LeBron have had countless battles. The pressure is on the post-Kobe Lakers more than it was on the post-Jordan Bulls.
While the Bulls are in rebuild mode, yet again, the Los Angeles Lakers may have the best shot of the two teams in bringing home a championship post-greatness.