LA Lakers Title Recipe Mixes Zen, Kobe, and Unruffled Architect's Plat

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 15, 2009

The loudest night of Kobe Bryant's career began with silence.

Coach Phil Jackson said everything his team needed to hear before tipoff of Game Five, which the Los Angeles Lakers won 99-86, by saying nothing.

Call it rambunctiousness through meditation.

After the clock expired and the hushed Orlando crowd had begun to lick wounds still open after 14 years, Bryant and Fisher tearfully embraced.

Jackson, now the winningest coach in league history, threw up his sophic hands and let the crest of a 10th title wave submerge him.

From walking off Boston's TD Banknorth Garden parquet wearing the humiliation of a 39-point defeat to quashing Orlando's enchanted touch, consider the transformation complete.

Mission accomplished.

This time, the team yelling it isn't on an air craft carrier. Instead, this unit fought in a different trench and body slammed the NBA's berserk, trey-bombing Tinkerbell to complete its conquest.

Some had doubted the Lakers wartime resolve since October. Could this team survive when an opponent found its rapid fire switch?

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Would this bunch take its lumps and surrender or respond to the gunfire with an emphatic "I'll be back?"

Bryant answered first when Lakers Trainer Gary Vitti asked to tend to the star's jammed right hand at halftime. The Finals MVP has endured the discomfort of a broken pinkie since early 2008 to lead a gold medal dash, and now, a championship run.

He re-injured his mangled right ring finger making a play on the ball against Magic rookie Courtney Lee.

"I want to feel the pain," Bryant told Vitti.

Then, he emerged from the locker room, his Lakers clinching a 10-point advantage, and dished it at the Magic's expense.

He began the second half with a stepback jumper in Lee's face. He followed with an athletic drive.

He found Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom for three-pointers later in the quarter.

He finished with 30 points, six rebounds, five assists, and four blocks, and at last, laid the asphalt of his legacy.

If Bryant entered Amway Arena as a probable top 10 all-time talent, he took the "p" word and smashed it.

The guard's name will live alongside Kareem Abdul Jabar, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, and yes, Shaquille O' Neal and Michael Jordan, in pro basketball's immortal neighborhood.

Bryant compared the endless banter surrounding his ability to win a ring sans O'Neal to "Chinese Water Torture." He called it a challenge his critics had forced him to accept.

In this provocation, the merciless Bryant put his team's hose on full blast and turned it off only when the proverbial crews had come to transport the insouciant but drowned Magic players to the morgue.

Who's doing the ass tasting now, Mr. O' Neal?

For Kobe, the filet of all titles to savor

This one is his. Though pieces of it belong to Pau Gasol, Odom, Ariza and countless other heroes, he spearheaded this quest and refused to celebrate any milestones until the finish line.

When the Lakers rolled to the league's best road record, he grimaced.

When the Lakers pounded LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, he thought of it as an apex. He wanted to beat them in June.

When the Lakers exacted revenge on their bullies, the Boston Celtics, both on Christmas Day and in a February overtime thriller, he winked but barely smiled.

When the Lakers ousted the Denver Nuggets 119-92 in a road romp to claim the Western Conference title, he shrugged.

He longed for a return to this moment, and with Father Time licking those unbeatable chops, he must relish it.

Bryant has been as lucky as he's been good. Few athletes with his big-game mileage could play this long without a major injury.

At some point, the misfortune that has befallen O'Neal and Duncan will harass Bryant. The laws of justice and logic make it so.

If other stars have endured weeks or months of sitting on the bench in street clothes, why shouldn't Bryant?

At 30, his skills and athleticism will diminish before they expand. The emergence of Gasol and the continued lift of a sans-pareil supporting cast will prolong his competition window.

The other guys, however, can only do so much.

Father Time steals without asking. He hammers grace with foul doses of reality.

Bryant spent most of the year keeping his fans and everyone else stranded outside the Staples Center gates.

Will he finally let them in, so they can share in the glow of his Los Angeles-wide smile?

Sunday night, he gorged on the buffet line of greatness.

In the first quarter, he drove the lane and met Lee and Howard at the rim. Hanging in mid-air, he kept the ball from both defenders hands and threw in an acrobatic layup off the glass.

A different edition of the Lakers suffered a similar move from Jordan.

In the second quarter, Bryant ran baseline and threw it down, leaving Howard and the rest of Orlando's helpless interior defense in the dust.

He nailed a pair of treys, fall-away jumpers, hanging bankers, and, of course, all eight of his free throws.

The rest of the NBA, in addition to nature's deadliest dad, will want to beat Bryant next year. He need only look at Kevin Garnett's unexpected injury and how it derailed the Celtics' repeat to see the tenuous nature of this pinnacle.

He should chew on this filet mignon like no other because his work was rare but well-done.

The unflappable, unwavering Bryant can smile now. This one is his.

A bit of Zen, a lot of win for Jackson

Can you get lucky 10 times?

If Jackson previously owned a membership to the pro sports club of all-time coaches, he now holds the master key.

But, the "Zen Master's" legacy won't be that he passed Celtics luminary Red Auerbach in the titles won category or that he was better.

It will be that, however unorthodox his methods, he liked to win and found ways to get three different squads to do it a lot.

His opposite in this series called timeouts as often as George Michael gets busted for lewdness in public restrooms and bushes. Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy hollered and hemmed motivational tactics until his potato-shaped head turned bright red.

If you would buy a DVD full of Van Gundy's "Wired" huddle and locker room speeches, you might have to read spiritual texts to catch Jackson's drift.

The man who makes his players read New York Times Bestsellers as part of practice is cool and collected.

Even when the Houston Rockets and Nuggets thumped his Lakers in the second round and conference finals, he sounded more like Dr. Phil on Ecstasy in his post-game pressers than a raging bull.

Concerned? Leave that to Jeannie Buss and her Twitter obsession.

Couldn't you picture Jackson under an umbrella on the sidelines in a Hawaiian shirt, sipping margaritas, bobbing his head to Jimmy Buffet?

Oh, he found that lost shaker of salt, all right.

Some coaches micro manage and intrude. Jackson has always let his players figure it out.

Orlando on a 12-3 run with Rashard Lewis on fire like a lit up oil rig?

Shrug. It happens. You guys figure it out.

His guidance is enough. Maybe he means it when he agrees with Alonzo Mourning that Bryant does all the work.

When Stuart Scott interrogated Jackson during the trophy presentation, the coach deflected questions about his legacy or his brilliance.

"It's about them," Jackson said of his players.

It's also about the impersonal but legendary sideline tactician getting the most out of Hall of Famers who struggled to win with other mentors.

Only Shaq won another title without Jackson, and that was with Hall of Famer Pat Riley.

That Jackson enjoyed the All-Star services of Jordan, O' Neal, Pippen, and Bryant says only that coaches need great players to win.

Gregg Popovich blames his success on Tim Duncan as Jackson does his on Jordan and Bryant.

Auerbach, who didn't have to deal with free agency or 30 teams, won with Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.

Why not? You don't win titles with Smush Parker or Mark Madsen as your best player.

One thing is certain after the Lakers ended the Magic's impressive run and moved Jackson-coached teams to 44-0 all-time after winning Game One.

Jackson's record speaks for itself

His legacy, should he retire after this year, is no crap shoot.

Kupchak endures, then molds a despotic champion

Standing mere feet from Bryant just before the Lakers 15th trophy ceremony was a man who two summers ago entertained the idea of trading him.

No one in the organization suffered more beatings for the franchise's post-Shaq struggles than GM Mitch Kupchak.

If an architect is lauded for innovation he shoulders the blame for faulty design.

In 2007, the Lakers bowed to the gimmicky, run-and-gun Phoenix Suns in five games. The game in which Bryant dialed in 45 points was one of the four the Lakers lost.

Then, Odom was trying to live up to an unfair Scottie Pippen comparison, Smush Parker was the starting point guard and Kwame Brown was a rotation fixture.

That summer, when Bryant demanded a trade, the Buss family and Kupchak considered it.

If this championship was about a mission it was also about perseverance.

Kupchak caught constant flak even in these playoffs. One writer on this site questioned if the GM's $15 million resigning of Sasha "The Latrine" Vujacic had cost the Lakers a title.

Hindsight shows us the real fools. It was Kupchak who drafted Andrew Bynum when others wondered if the high school prodigy could handle the pressure of the Lakers tradition.

Though Bynum rarely showed up and had no lift after a second consecutive knee injury, he showed promise.

It was Kupchak who handed Luke Walton an over-grossed contract years ago. Even if the Lakers overpaid, Walton's timely post ups and help defense helped make life tough for Carmelo Anthony and a variety of Magic wingmen among others.

Most of all, it was Kupchak who fleeced the Memphis Grizzlies and landed the championship sidekick Bryant needed to win his fourth ring.

"Uh, hello, this is Chris Wallace."

"Yeah, it's Mitch Kupchak from Los Angeles. Listen, how about Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, some draft picks and the younger Gasol who might never play in the NBA? Oh, and this Javaris guy who hasn't done anything yet? Sound good?"


No one will ever know how Kupchak pulled off this heist.

What matters is that he did, and now the Lakers and their fans are the beneficiaries of his patient design.

This boisterous evening started with reflection.

It ended with the Lakers keeping their promise to return to the NBA's biggest stage and finish what they could not last year.

Mission accomplished.

And, they'll be back again.