What a party last week in La La Land, as the Los Angeles Lakers were celebrating their 15th world title victory. The guest of honor was Kobe Bryant, as he stepped out of one shadow, Shaquille O’Neal, and quickly stepped into another shadow, Michael Jordan. But this shadow might be too large to step out from because Bryant might find that you cannot out-Mike Mike.
The experts will tell you that no can win a title on their own, everyone needs help along the way to a NBA crown. You had Bird-McHale in Boston, Kareem-Magic during the Lakers “Showtime” era, and Jordan-Pippen running together in Chicago. Bryant received unconventional assistance in his latest title run, as it came off-court in Phil Jackson, his former nemesis. It took eight long years, but finally he bought into the coaching wisdom of Jackson and became a giver rather than a scorer on the basketball court.
They clashed in their first tour of duty together, as Jackson called their relationship in his famous tell-all book a “psychological war” and demanded Laker management to trade Bryant during the course of the 2004 season. He deemed him “uncoachable,” as Jackson exited the organization in the following off-season. Now, Bryant admits it would be hard to envision himself playing for someone other than the Zen Master.
All of Jackson’s teams are known for their interior defense around the basket. Yes, Dwight Howard needed to make free throws for the Orlando Magic to be successful in the finals, but he only scored 21 baskets in the five-game series. And he didn’t receive any help from Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing because he couldn’t solve Jackson’s defensive formations from their Knick-Bull playoff battles in years’ past.
Jackson lives by several Buddhist mantras, and shared one with his team prior to the start of this year’s playoffs. He told them to stay in the moment, and don’t look back. Never look too far ahead. Don’t waste the opportunity and enjoy the journey.
His words were poetic justice in the Lakers second quarter turnaround of Game Five. They took the Magic’s best punch offensively in the opening quarter, and presided to outscore them 30-18 in the following period. They showcased their precision offensive efficiency and shutdown defense.
During the half, Bryant implored his teammates to seize the moment and drive the stake through their opponent’s heart. The Lakers, who showed disinterested at times during this post-season, put it all together in the final half of the season. They sealed the deal with a 16-0 run to start the second half, as Bryant was setting up his teammates and more importantly, leading them to a NBA title.
Bryant can opt out of his contract this off-season, but don’t count on him leaving Los Angeles any time soon. He is driven to win NBA championships, and the Lakers have enough talent to keep the Lawrence O’Brien trophy settled out West for an extended stay.