- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

This being a Twitter world, Kobe Bryant got his congratulations from the big guy in 140 characters or less.

No need for anything more personal, not on this night of nights for Bryant. Besides, he had new teammates to celebrate with, new memories to savor.

Shaquille O’Neal seemed another lifetime away. Bryant was the one with the NBA finals MVP trophy in hand, an old score finally settled.

“Well I don’t have to hear that criticism, that idiotic criticism, anymore,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”

Idiotic, maybe. Unfair, possibly.

But until Sunday night in Orlando it was never just all about Bryant. Like it or not, until he won a ring of his own his legacy was always going to be intertwined with the center he won with and feuded with until all of Los Angeles wasn’t even big enough to contain their collective egos.

Bryant didn’t like it, but he heard it. Heard it so often that it got to the point he couldn’t stomach the thought of talking about it.

He doesn’t have to anymore. These were Kobe’s Lakers, and this is Kobe’s championship.

He was determined to do whatever was humanly possible to make sure they didn’t fail. And he delivered in a way that would have been unimaginable back in the days when his supreme talent was often obscured by his petulant ways.

The 30 points, six rebounds and five assists in the box score didn’t begin to measure Bryant’s claim to this game, just as his equally impressive stats in the four other games didn’t begin to tally up to what he meant to his team. This was Bryant being Michael Jordan, willing his teammates on to great things because he expected nothing less than greatness from them.

They hopped on for the ride because they believed, just like Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, and, yes, even Dennis Rodman, believed in Chicago. They knew if they did their jobs the Lakers would be on top when it was all over and, even if they didn’t, there was a good chance that Bryant would find a way to rescue the team anyway.

The champagne flowed in the locker room because the Lakers had just won the 15th title in the team’s history, and even the Zen Master himself got soaked. But Bryant had even more reason to celebrate because there wasn’t anyone who wanted this championship as desperately as he did.

LeBron James may have been this year’s MVP. But Bryant was the MVP when it mattered most.

“It felt like a big ‘ol monkey off my back,” he said.

This wasn’t a classic championship series, though few that end 4-1 are. The Orlando Magic had a nice run, but there was never the feeling that the Lakers would relax like they had done against other teams earlier in the playoffs.

Not with Bryant trying to make a claim to being one of the greatest players ever. Not with Phil Jackson sitting serenely on the bench while cementing his claim to being the greatest coach ever.

Jackson, of course, is famous for his philosophy of living in the moment, something Bryant embraced along the way, too. Neither allowed himself to think past the next game, and Bryant was so focused that he was still scowling after the Lakers won in overtime in Game 2 to go up a commanding 2-0 in the series.

Afterward, he was asked if he was happy with the win.

“What’s there to be happy about?” Bryant asked. “The job’s not finished.”

Everyone was happy on this night because the job was finally finished. Bryant’s long road to redemption from last year’s embarrassing loss to the Boston Celtics was finally over, and Jackson’s record 10th coaching title _ in just 19 years _ was finally secured.

Jackson donned a yellow cap made by his children with the Roman numeral X on it and the years of his 10 titles, a rare display for a coach who even to the end gave all the credit to his players. He and Bryant had a long embrace and, later in the locker room, Bryant orchestrated a surprise champagne shower for his coach.

Jackson would later remember back to a different time and a different Bryant. It was early into his first stint as coach of the Lakers and Bryant had gotten caught up in a shooting display in a game in Toronto one night, neglecting his teammates and turning it into a one-man game.

He brought Bryant in for a chat and told him he needed to be a leader. Bryant declared he was ready to become captain right then.

“Yes, but nobody is ready to follow you,” Jackson told his star.

They are now, and they’re NBA champions because of it. And while Jackson may just decide to call it quits after this one and go off in search of inner peace, you get the feeling that winning this one may make Bryant even more hungry for the next.

For now, though, all he has in mind is a vacation in Cabo, where he can relax and savor the one he wanted most.

“It’s tough to say it’s a little sweeter,” Bryant said. “But it kind of is.”

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide