During Sunday’s press conference after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-91 in the deciding Game Five, several of you asked newly crowned Finals MVP Kobe Bryant what it was like to win his first title without Shaquille O’Neal.
The same fact was mentioned all season long whenever the topic of the Lakers winning a championship was brought up.
But instead of focusing on the words “Shaquille” and “O’Neal,” you guys should have been focusing on the word “first.”
That’s the news here, not Shaq.
This is the first NBA title for Bryant in the post-Shaq era.
It shouldn’t be his last.
You people also asked him about his legacy as if this NBA championship sealed it.
Sorry to spoil it for you folks, but Bryant’s legacy is nowhere close to being “sealed.”
Instead, Sunday night’s victory is like the final scene in the first act of a Tony Award-winning musical.
It’s really good, but much more is still to come.
Bryant is still young—he’ll be 31 when next season begins. The oldest Laker, Derek Fisher is 34, and most the other core players—Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Trevor Ariza—are all in their 20s.
Future all-star center Andrew Bynum is only 21.
This is their first title as well.
Sure there is the pending free agency of Odom and Ariza, but, even if the Lakers are only able to keep one of the two, they’ll be the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship next season, the year after, and they should be the favorites the year after that.
How many championships for Bryant are we talking about here?
I’m talking 1990s Bulls’ style dominance of the NBA from the Lakers.
Speaking of the Bulls, that reminds me of something.
When talking about Kobe’s legacy, you fail to mention that he’s now ahead of Michael Jordan in number of rings.
At 30, Kobe has four rings.
At 31, Michael had three and was trying to play baseball for the Birmingham Barons.
When Jordan came back to the NBA, his Bulls threepeated.
But Kobe’s current Lakers' core of Bryant, Gasol, Odom, and Bynum is younger, more talented, and could easily be better than the Jordan-Pippen-Kukoc-Rodman or Jordan-Pippen-Grant teams.
Plus, with the way Kobe takes care of his body and is constantly training his mind, it’s not inconceivable that Bryant could play until his late 30s.
Like Jordan, Bryant will be able to adapt his game to his body’s aging.
His basketball intelligence has increased every season—how often do we see him forget about the rest of the Lakers like he used to in order to go one-on-one with a rival player?
Now, he only plays one-on-one when it’s in the best interest of the Lakers.
And he is the ultimate leader of a team.
Have you seen him in those huddles with the clipboards telling Gasol and Odom where to be?
The better Bynum and Gasol become, he’ll defer to them more often.
Bryant is so versatile and knowledgeable that I could envision him at 36 or 37 averaging a Jason-Kidd like 15 points and 11 assists per game.
This offseason will be the first one Bryant has had a chance to rest in almost three years as there is no USA Basketball.
He’ll have a chance to rest his legs, heal his body–surgery on that right pinkie finger finally?—and listen to all of you chatter about his legacy.
And then he’ll remember that he is a defending champion.
Those are scary thoughts for the rest of the league.
Who will challenge the Lakers?
The Cavs (or whatever team Lebron ends up playing for)? The TrailBlazers?
I don't know.
But one thing is for sure, this is just the beginning for Bryant.
Michael Del Muro