He finally did it. Kobe Bryant is a champion without that famous guy with all those Twitter followers.
Yes, he won without Shaq, but it's not like he led the Cavs to the title.
Don’t get me wrong, Kobe is a great player—in everyone’s top two—but he’s also on the best team. It’s not pure vindication. His team was superior.
This shouldn’t be all about Kobe, even though Kobe made it seem “all about him” after the game, taking nauseatingly obvious advantage of the family photo-op to promote the Bryant brand. Did the lovely wife dressed in purple and the girls in little Laker-girl outfits seem a tad staged? Wouldn’t the more spontaneous, less photo-opportunistic response be celebrating with the teammates?
What it is about is a successful organization that pulled all the right strings and had some huge luck along the way. The stars began to align after the 2004 NBA Finals loss to the Pistons for this Lakers team to win No. 15 on Sunday night in Orlando, but, at the time, it looked more like an implosion.
Shaq was traded to Miami and two seasons later won his fourth title—the one without Kobe—further igniting the desire for Kobe to win without Shaq.
Kobe—who after the 2004 finals Phil Jackson wanted traded and in his book called “Uncoachable and Selfish”—opted out of his deal and contemplated signing with the Clippers before choosing to remain a Laker. By the way, Kobe could opt out of his current deal next month, but claims he won’t.
Jackson then bailed on the Lakers after management made it clear Kobe was the centerpiece and the future of the franchise. He wrote the book, did his Zen thing, but decided he couldn’t stand not being around Kurt Rambis and returned to the land of silicon and smog after the year without basketball.
Kobe was the best player on the floor in the Finals (with Pau Gasol a close second), but the supporting cast—especially Gasol, Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza—was every bit as championship-caliber.
The running mate Kobe needed came last season in the lopsided trade with the Grizzlies for Gasol, prompting Spurs coach Greg Popovich to say, “There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense.” Kobe gets the Finals MVP, but Gasol put up great numbers throughout the playoffs (18.3 ppg, 58 percent FG, 10.8 rpg, 2.5 bpg) and exhibited a toughness belying the soft European stereotype.
Fisher—like Jackson and Shaq—left after the 2004 season spending two years in Oakland and one in Salt Lake before returning last year. With the obvious penchant for draining big shots—he’s Steve Kerr and John Paxson rolled into one—Fisher is a good ball-handler, great defender and a leader on the floor. No way they would be hoisting that trophy without Fisher.
Ariza played in control, hit shots in the fourth quarter, and his physical, quick-footed defense kept Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu in check when it mattered most.
Put LeBron on the Lakers and they don't lose. See how Kobe does with the Cavs. Put Gasol on the Cavs with LeBron and they don't lose.
Players win games, but Lakers management put those players on the court. General Manager Mitch Kupchak—a guy Kobe profanely ripped two years ago for not acquiring Jason Kidd in exchange for Andrew Bynum—deserves major recognition, not only for keeping Bynum, but for not trading Kobe when No. 24 asked for one.
Ask Mark Cuban how acquiring Kidd has worked out.
Kobe got his first without Shaq, but had as much help this go around as he did winning three to start the decade.
Proves it takes more than one great player to win. Then again, LeBron could tell you all about that.
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