This was not Shaq cutting and running to the Heat when the going got tougher. This was not Scottie trying to recreate his Chicago fortunes in Portland and Houston.
This was, after the threat of jumping ship to the Clippers and a few jumpy moments considering a trade, staying in one place and making it work. Like Larry. Like Magic. Like all the single-team stars who have stood for more than cashing in.
And, yes, he is staying, his early-termination option this summer and opt out next summer merely avenues to maximize the Lakers paycheck.
"I think this one is special because you rarely have the opportunity to get back up to the mountain twice in a career," he said. "In other words, you have your first run and then you hit rock bottom, and then you've got to build back up and get back to the top again."
Shaq never went through that. Neither did Jordan. Nor has Duncan.
Yet, from legacy perspective, one measly Finals MVP hardly measures up, especially with the Lakers. Not only did Shaq have his three in Los Angeles, but Magic also has three. One merely puts Bryant in a Lakers lineage that also includes Wilt, Kareem and James Worthy.
And while the four championships tie Kobe with Shaq and Tim Duncan (and, yes, Derek Fisher) in the post-Jordan era, Duncan, like Shaq, is a three-time Finals MVP.
It has been six years since Eagle, Colo. It has been five since issuing a statement that read, in part, "I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year."
A career has since been resurrected to its ultimate heights. Time has muted much of the personal questions. Even the fans in Denver seemed to have forgotten, if not forgiven, based on the crowd reactions during the Western Conference finals.
It's back to being about basketball, which is a major stride, like that sweep past Pietrus for a dunk in Sunday's decisive second quarter.
"He's learned how to become a leader," coach Phil Jackson said, "in a way in which people want to follow him."
No, this is not the Kobe who squabbled with Shaq, the Kobe who filled Phil's book, the Kobe who actually thought he could be like Mike.
This championship, this moment, is about a Kobe who has proven resilient, redoubtable, resurrected.
"You grow as a person," he said. "You grow as a man."
His place in league lore might remain stagnant.
But his place in today's NBA remains unquestioned.
At the top. Alone.
PBT: After it looked like Paul George's heroics would sink the Heat in Game 1, LeBron James stunned Indiana with a layup as time expired to lift Miami in OT.
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