Greatness occurs when individuals do things that seem unlikely, even close to impossible.
Greatness can be assigned to Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant now that the Lakers have won the 2009 NBA championship.
Their accomplishments were already mighty good, but both men moved up a notch with their latest feat.
By winning his 10th NBA title Jackson passed Red Auerbach, who won nine with the Boston Celtics.
Auerbach had Bill Russell, the greatest winner ever among NBA players. Jackson had Michael Jordan, then Bryant, but neither is a dominating center.
This championship for Bryant was his fourth but the significance is it’s his first without Shaquille O’Neal. He proved this season an older, more mature Bryant could win without a huge, dominating center, just a pretty good one like Pau Gasol.
The younger Bryant would shoot more often. The older Bryant plays the game right, trusts his teammates more, and is a far better leader.
After the final game Sunday in Orlando, Bryant told the television audience what he had told a smaller group of Los Angeles writers several times this season.
He said the significance would be getting up from the bottom to rise to the top in winning a Laker championship for the first time in seven years.
I was in training camp in Honolulu in 1996, the year G.M. Jerry West engineered one of the most remarkable feats – perhaps the league’s best one ever—of signing O’Neal as a free agent, making a draft day trade for Bryant, who was then a high school player, and drafting an unknown guard from Little Rock, Arkansas named Derek Fisher.
It provided the foundation for three championships. But then O’Neal and Fisher left. It’s very hard to get back to the top, so I have an appreciation of how much this means to Bryant. And how important it was for him to have Fisher back.
The Lakers lost one game in the Finals and easily could have lost two more. But they didn’t because they grew up a lot following their 39-point loss to the Celtics in the final game of last season.
It’s not a coincidence that a team coached by Jackson presided over this recovery. There’s a reason why the man commands $10 million a season to do his work.
Today, it’s not a stretch to compare Bryant with Jordan. Bryant controlled this series just as Jordan used to control the Chicago Bulls.
As always, there will be front office decisions to make, and the Lakers won’t have the same roster next season. But that’s a story for another time.