Kobe Bryant finally answered the questions.
1) Who would you rather have – him or LeBron James?
2) If you reached a Game 7, which guy would get you home?
3) If you needed one shot to win it all, which guy would you have take it?
And the answer is Â
You better have a team if you want to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. That’s the overwhelming lesson from these NBA Finals, which ended in a seventh game that saw Bryant stink up the joint with his shooting, but still celebrate in a confetti shower – thanks to guys like Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol.
The myth of the single superstar was exploded this postseason. LeBron crapped out early. Dwyane Wade had one night. Dwight Howard was exposed, a Superman wearing nothing but a cape.
And in the end, when, according to the superstar handbook, Kobe was supposed to soar above the rest, he was mortal and earthbound and shaking his head and lying on the court with less than 10 minutes left, having just committed another turnover and a blocking foul. Jordan Farmar pulled him to his feet and told him not to dwell on negatives.
This from a guy who comes off the bench.
“I was on ÂE,’ ” Bryant told the media after his fifth NBA championship. “I’m just glad my teammates really got us back in the game.”
Teammates. What a concept! The truth about defense
That was an interesting final game, but hardly a well-played one. Boston couldn’t block out anyone – surrendering a jaw-dropping 23 offensive rebounds – and the L.A. Lakers, despite the raucous home crowd, couldn’t shoot. How do you win an NBA title firing 33%?
You do it with scraps. You do it with put-backs. You do it with here and theres, this and thats, a charging foul, a third rebound. None of this is superstar stuff. Not only was Bryant, the King of the Lakers, less than great Thursday night, Paul Pierce, whom everyone keeps calling a superstar (I don’t see it), played all but 2 1/2 minutes of the game and made five shots and three turnovers.
You gotta have a team. The Celtics proved that by reaching the Finals in the first place, and L.A. proved it by getting 20 points from Artest on Thursday and a huge fourth quarter from Fisher in Game 3. Without those numbers, they’re not hoisting a trophy, no matter what Kobe puts up.
LeBron, judged the best player in the NBA, won six games and lost five this postseason. You simply cannot get it done by yourself in the playoffs. The regular season is a different animal. You blow into town, the opponent has a few hours to prepare for you, you drop 40 and fly off with a victory.
But give teams and coaches day after day to scheme and prep and adjust, and one guy can be shut down. LeBron was. Howard was. Wade was. And in Game 7, Kobe was. The man who would win the Finals MVP missed 18 of 24 shots on his last night, forcing jumpers over two and three defenders. The truth about hard work
Which brings us to another truism of the NBA: Effort in this league is still a night-to-night thing. Did you see the defense the Celtics and Lakers played Thursday? It was beautiful, guys helping, doubling, racing over, sticking to their men.
Why can’t you see that every night? Is it only when players realize there is no tomorrow? I think it is. NBA guys are increasingly short on fundamentals, defense is a secondary concern, and they seem to sense when a game is hopeless or when there’s another night to try again. It’s why you see so many blowouts. One side just sags; the other whomps.
But you rarely have such effort sags in, say, the Stanley Cup finals. The puck may not go in, but you don’t see nightly fluctuations in how hard the guys play defense.
It’s why the 2004 Pistons could win it all against a marquee-name Lakers team, or why the 2007 Spurs could sweep a title from LeBron and the Cavaliers. Defense. Team play. So corny, yet so vital.
One star fills your seats. Two, you can challenge. Three can get you a ring. But you better have the Fishers and Artests as well, or you’re going home empty.
“Kobe passed me the ball!” Artest marveled to the media after the game. “He never passes me the ball!”
How about that? Who would have thought a postseason that began with just two names – Kobe, LeBron – would end with both of them so dependent on others?
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).