Monday, November 29, 1999

Finals MVP Bryant cements place among greats

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Clutching his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP Award, five-time champion Kobe Bryant knows he has earned a rightful place among the basketball greats.Adding another golden chapter to his illustrious career, Bryant waded through shooting struggles to help the Lakers slay the Boston Celtics in a thrilling 83-79 Game Seven victory on Thursday as Los Angeles successfully defended their NBA crown.Bryant finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds despite a wayward 6-for-24 shooting display, his winning performance elevating him to a level above his peers and justifying his standing as the best player of his generation."Just got one more (championship) than Shaq. You can take that to the bank," Bryant told reporters of his rivalry with former team mate Shaquille O'Neal as he let out a laugh.With his most recent championship, Bryant also tied Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson and moved one away from Michael Jordan, a player with whom he is most often compared."It's tough for me to really put that (comparison) in any context," Bryant said."Ninety percent of what I learned comes from him. So this is not a situation where it's like a me and Shaq rivalry thing. It's more of a genuine love that I have for him."In winning his second Finals MVP Award, Bryant averaged 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists.INJURY PROBLEMSHe is one of only nine players in NBA history to win multiple Finals MVP Awards, joining the likes of Jordan (six times), O'Neal (three), Johnson (three) and Larry Bird (two).However, the journey was far from easy for the 31-year-old Bryant, who dealt with a rash of injuries throughout the year while his reign atop the league was questioned.He struggled with his shooting through the opening round of the playoffs and needed his knee drained of fluid to relieve pain during the post-season."That's what made this even sweeter," Bryant said. "Everybody kept talking about 'he's old, he's old.' I was hurt."Less than his best in Thursday's Game Seven, Bryant had to rely on his team mates as they have leaned on him for so many years."He belongs in the conversation (of best player of all-time)," fellow five-time champion team mate Derek Fisher said."The most interesting part of the conversation is that he's not done. There will be a lot more to talk about there."(Editing by John O'Brien; To comment on this story email
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