ORLANDO: Kobe Bryant’s seven-year chase of a coveted National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship ended on Sunday when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 99-86 to take an unassailable lead after Game 5 of the best of seven finals series.
Bryant now has his fourth NBA title, and coach Phil Jackson his record 10th. One year after conceding the finals to Boston, Bryant and the Lakers have redemption, and all the rewards that go with it.
The star shooting guard scored 30 points and Pau Gasol added 14 and 15 rebounds as the Lakers earned their 15th title.
With his fourth championship, Bryant finally stepped out of former team-mate Shaquille O’Neal’s enormous shadow and secured a strong case to be considered the league’s best player since Michael Jordan.
Bryant, who averaged 32.4 points and was named the finals MVP, said the can-he-win-without-Shaq talk annoyed him.
“It was like Chinese water torture,” he said. “I would cringe every time. I was just like, it’s a challenge I’m just going to have to accept because there’s no way I’m going to argue it. You can say it until you’re blue in the face and rationalise it until you’re blue in the face, but it’s not going anywhere until you do something about it.
“I think we as a team answered the call because they understood the challenge that I had, and we all embraced it.”
O’Neal, now with the Phoenix Suns, was glad to see Bryant win another title.
“Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it,” O’Neal said on his Twitter page. “You played great. Enjoy it my man enjoy it.”
Jackson, who won six league titles in the 1990s with Jordan in Chicago, now has won four with Lakers and broke a tie with legendary Boston coach Red Auerbach as the most successful coach in finals history.
“I’ll smoke the cigar tonight in memory of Red,” Jackson said in reference to the late Auerbach’s traditional victory celebration. “He was a great guy.”
Bryant and Jackson, whose relationship strained and briefly snapped under the weight of success, are again at the top of their games.
Jackson, who once called Bryant “a selfish player” now sees the 30-year-old in a far different light.
“He’s learned how to become a leader in a way in which people want to follow him,” Jackson said. “That’s really important for him to have learned that because he knew that he had to give to get back in return, and so he’s become a giver rather than just a guy that’s a demanding leader. That’s been great for him and great to watch.” — AP