Lakers Finish Off Orlando Magic
We've seen this movie before. Your father saw it. His father saw it. The Lakers being handed a championship trophy, led by one Hall of Famer or another or another.
Do the Lakers ever run out of superstars, or titles? The line stretches back into the fog of history. There is no end in sight.
They made one more official Sunday night — No. 15, if you count the Minneapolis days — finishing off an Orlando team that had clearly run out of magic 99-86. For the losers, it was a dispirited finish to a stirring run. But they had nothing left, groggy from a 1-2 punch of overtime losses, worn down by coming close against an opponent that kept coming.
They had been Lakered into submission.
"They had an answer," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said, "for everything."
Good thing Staples Center back in Los Angeles has a large ceiling, to handle all the banners and retired numbers. Now if they can only find someone to pay for the parade.
This championship is framed by Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 Sunday.
There was Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal earlier this decade.
Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980s.
Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1970s.
George Mikan in the 1950s.
Make a list of the top 10 all-time NBA players and count how many contributed to Laker championships. Bryant, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, West. At least half the 10.
Bryant has been around long enough to lead two waves. One with Shaq and one, finally, without.
"It was annoying. It was like Chinese water torture," he said of all the times he heard about not winning without O'Neal. "Every time I heard it, I would cringe. I said this is a challenge I'm going to have to accept. It's not going anywhere until you do something about it."
In a city where fashion trends and fame can each last 15 minutes, winning championships never goes out of style.
The Lakers came Sunday night to finish the job. In the tunnel, before they took the floor, Bryant called is teammates together. "Go out," he said, "and take what's ours."
Then they did.
In the end, the only game the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals, it took record Orlando shooting to beat them.
By midnight, the awful ghosts of last June's humbling by the Celtics had been exorcised.
By midnight, Bryant had four rings. He will never catch the likes of Bill Russell, but he is now only two behind Michael Jordan. And he is certainly in the right place to keep going.
The past two weeks showed the fully mature Bryant; a tour de force of what he has become. Never mind just the points. He led the Lakers in assists every game. His focus — in manner, in words, in expression — rarely wavered from that of your average laser beam.
"You grow as a man," he said. "You figure out the best way to beat these guys."
The night had Jackson recalling a meeting with Bryant in 2001, and trying to teach him the accountability he needed to learn.
Said Bryant that day, "I'm ready to be a captain right now."
Answered Jackson, "But no one's ready to follow you."
And now they do, right to Sunday night.
By midnight, Jackson and his 10 titles had passed Red Auerbach. "Incomprehensible," Van Gundy said.
It is useless to compare the two, because their NBA worlds were so different. Sunday night, he wore a yellow cap with the Roman numeral X — given him by his kids — and said the credit went to the players.
But it was Bryant who said, "He's extremely excited about it. You can see it in his eyes."
Nor is there good reason to dismiss the number as simply a product of being able to write Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on so many lineup cards.
Bryant had a point when he said, "I can't name one coach that won a championship with a bunch of scrubs. So that argument makes no sense."
"He doesn't put himself in the way," Derek Fisher said. "He lets us do it."
As for the Magic, they have discovered the dark side of the NBA Finals. They are examples of how fine the line can be — a missed layup, a clanked free throw — between the public calling you a hero and thinking you are a goat. Between being famous, and being lost.
Sometimes a loser is not to blame, the other team is just better. The Lakers have been proving that for 60 years.