ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kobe Bryant pulled Phil Jackson close, embracing his coach and looking him straight in the eyes. After all they’d been through, this was their moment, their championship, their time. This was the one to top all the others.
The one without Shaq.
The one to pass Red.
Bryant’s seven-year chase of a coveted championship is finally over. He’s got his fourth title, and Jackson his record 10th. One year after failing in the finals, Bryant and the Lakers have redemption, and all the rewards that go with it.
The Lakers earned their 15th title on Sunday night as Bryant scored 30 points and Pau Gasol added 14 and 15 rebounds in a 99-86 Game 5 win over the Orlando Magic, who ran out of comebacks.
It took longer than Bryant expected, but he has stepped out of former teammate Shaquille O’Neal’s enormous shadow — at last. His fourth championship secured a strong case can be made for Bryant being the league’s best player since Michael Jordan hung up his sneakers.
Bryant, who averaged 32.4 points and was named 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 rationalize 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.”
Bryant’s coach now stands alone.
Jackson, the chilled-out, bow-legged Zen Master who won six league titles in the 1990s with Jordan in Chicago, now has won four with Los Angeles and broke a tie with legendary Boston coach Red Auerbach as the winningest coach in finals history.
“I’ll smoke the cigar tonight in memory of Red,” Jackson said. “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 a demanding leader. That’s been great for him and great to watch.”