Kobe Bryant Speaks the Truth After Winning Championship
After claiming throughout the NBA Finals there was no extra motivation to beat Boston, the Lakers' long-time rival that spanked them in 2008, he finally admitted that of course there was. Heck, Bryant even was truthful about stuff he wasn't specifically asked.
"I just got one more than Shaq,'' the Lakers guard said after he won his fifth NBA title and was asked what it meant to him individually beating Boston 83-79 at the Staples Center on Thursday night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. "You can take that to the bank. You know how I am. I don't forget anything.''
It was Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant's running mate for Lakers' titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and later his adversary, who famously rapped after the Lakers lost to Boston in the 2008 Finals, "Kobe, tell me how my (behind) taste.'' O'Neal, adding one with Miami in 2006, has four rings, and at that time Bryant still hadn't won one without Shaq. But Bryant now has added two since O'Neal's dig.
Throughout the Finals, an often-surly Bryant regularly had been feeding the media bland three-word answers. Had they lost Game 7 after trailing by 13 points in the third quarter, they would have become one-word grumbles.
Bryant wasn't doing a lot to help his team's cause for a while, looking as if he was ready to compete with LeBron James' Game 5 showing against Boston in an East semifinal for the most bizarre bad performance by an NBA superstar. He started out shooting 3 of 17, and was throwing the ball all over the place.
Bryant at least was rebounding, ending up with a career Finals-high 15. And his shot eventually came around a little bit. He finished 6 of 24 for a game-high 23 points to secure his second straight Finals MVP trophy, one largely earned due to a series scoring average of 28.6.
"I'll be really honest with you, I didn't even hear them,'' Bryant said of the fans chanting early in the fourth quarter "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe'' in an effort to get him going. "I was so tired my ears were ringing. They really were. It felt like it was six in the morning and I was on the track running. I was just drained.''
Let the honesty begin. Bryant offered no shortage of it after the game.
"I was just lying to you guys,'' Bryant said about having downplayed what it would mean to beat the Celtics, who have tormented the Lakers, winning nine of 11 previous Finals meetings, including two years ago when Bryant struggled with his shot. "When you're in the moment, you have to suppress that because if you get caught up in the hype of it all, you don't really play your best. ... I know every Celtics series. I know every statistic. It meant the world to me, as well, but I couldn't focus on that.''
Bryant's focus is astounding. When Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw was asked about Bryant revealing little during the Finals to the media until after Thursday's game, Shaw might as well have said, "Welcome to the club.''
"He bottles it up with us, too,'' Shaw said. "He kind of tried to downplay everything to stay focused." Shaw added that how Bryant feels about O'Neal was "something that has motivated him, too. So it came out.''
So did plenty else.
Bryant was candid about his health. He played much of the season with a taped-up right index finger that had been fractured and became arthritic. He had his sore right knee drained after Game 4 of a West first-round series against Oklahoma City.
"I'm obviously going to have to look at the knee and figure some things out,'' said Bryant, certainly not wanting to be dishonest about anything in front of his two daughters, Natalia and Giannna, who joined him for a post-game interview. "I can't play a whole entire season the way it is now. ... Without the tape (on the finger), I can't grip a basketball.''
But the Shaq stuff was the most fun. The two tolerated each other while teammates from 1996-2004 and have had plenty of friction since O'Neal was dealt from the Lakers in 2004.
"It's because of you guys,'' said Joe Bryant, trying to downplay the rivalry between his son and O'Neal, despite Bryant bringing it up on his own about having taken a 5-4 lead in rings over the big fellow. "During the court of season, (the media is) competing with each other who is going to write this article, 'Can he win without Shaq?' You guys start that and then you get the fans to (weigh) in. ... I think that (Bryant and O'Neal) could have still played together. I think instead of having (three) championships, they could have made it eight.''
Bryant, though, seems pretty proud of his two without O'Neal. His father didn't didn't deny his son looks for anything he can for motivation.
But that doesn't mean Bryant feels he needs to talk about it. He spent nearly three weeks clamming up about wanting revenge against the Celtics for their 4-2 win in 2008 that ended with a humiliating 39-point Lakers loss in Game 6.
"It's about focus,'' said Joe Bryant. "The rivalry talk and all those things really doesn't mean anything until after the Finals are over. ... He knows the history with the Celtics, but why should he focus on it? This moment is to play the game.''
Bryant actually didn't play it too well Thursday. But his teammates bailed him out, especially forward Ron Artest, who had 20 points, and forward Pau Gasol, who totaled 19 points and 18 rebounds.
In the locker room after the game, Artest was yelling in disbelieving fashion, "Kobe passed me the ball.'' He was referring to a three-pointer Artest drilled with 1:01 left in the game to put the Lakers up 79-73.
Actually, Bryant didn't pass much, that being his second and final assist of the game. What he was throwing up weren't just bricks, they were cinderblocks. Bryant was misfiring from everywhere, including going 0 of 6 from three-point range.
Bryant did get it going enough in the fourth quarter for the Lakers to avoid what would have been a devastating defeat at home to the aging No. 4 seed from the East playing without starting center Kendrick Perkins, lost in Game 6 due to a knee injury. Bryant shot just 1 of 4 in the quarter, but he did attack the basket, and was 8 of 9 from the foul line for his 10 fourth-quarter points.
"He found himself frustrated out there for a number of minutes, all kinds of things,'' said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who said Bryant was "trying too hard.'' "Ball coming out of hands, losing the ball, very simple things, not being able to make complete plays, turnovers, etc. But he stayed with it and found a way to help this team win, and most of it was defensively.''
Bryant certainly used his determination to hit the boards. With the Lakers shooting 32.5 percent and Boston 40.8 percent, there were plenty to be had.
"I had to do something,'' he said. "It's whatever it takes to win the game.''
Now, Bryant just needs something to motivate him next season that he undoubtedly hopes to not talk about until he has some more truth serum after winning the 2011 NBA title. When it was mentioned Bryant, who turns 32 on Aug. 23, has logged way more NBA minutes than any player ever under 32, he quipped, "You want to start my motivation right now for next season?''
That doesn't sound like a great topic for motivation. Then again, maybe Shaq will fuel Bryant some more by calling him old.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson