Baq to Baq

A Hollywood axiom was dumped on its blow-dried head here Friday by a team more about scars than sunsets, with a spirit thick enough to be imprinted on a sidewalk.

Sequels never work?

This one did.

About midnight here, the final credits were dragged across the First Union Center floor by the rumbling, swaggering, champagne-soaked and howling Lakers.

The NBA Championship Returns.

The Lakers won a second consecutive NBA championship that, with the possible exception of zero confetti and 20,0000 congratulatory boos and curses, was better than the first.

Or, in the words of Ron Harper as he zeroed his liquor-soaked glare around a crowded locker room that once held only a couple of dozen believers:

"Y'all thought that we wouldn't be here now. But we found a way back."

The final statistics were a 108-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers for a four-games-to-one NBA Finals decision.

The final verdict was much simpler.

What fun.

Fifteen wins in 16 playoff games, the best in NBA playoff history.

By a team some thought might be swept away before the end of April.

Dancing after months of dissension. Egos disappearing into bear hugs and whispers.

The team that once refused to behave like a team finished Friday's final game with four players scoring in double figures, with seven players getting assists, with Shaquille O'Neal plowing and Kobe Bryant flying and Derek Fisher coolly nailing it all together with three after three after three.

They completed the somewhat unbelievable, then stated the obvious.

"This is better than last year because everybody wrote us off," said Rick Fox, bouncing on a locker room bench the way his team bounced on everyone else. "Of course, they had reason to write us off."

O'Neal spent the first months of the season in a funk. He ended it by slapping his hand rhythmically on the championship trophy's gold ball, turning into a rap instrument.

"I'm drunk," O'Neal said, and who from Southern California wasn't at least feeling that way.

Bryant spent much of the season criticized for acting like a kid. He ended it stalking down the hall with an adult glare, in an oversized leather Laker jacket, swinging the trophy like a weapon.

"The first championship was like a honeymoon," Kobe said. "This time around, we went through so much adversity."

Last year's celebration featured tears. This one felt more like redemption.

"Everybody said that the 76ers had all the heart, but look at this team," Harper said. "Shoooooo . . . "

Look at this franchise.

Eight championships in the last 30 years, or one every 3.75 years.

Seven of those belong to Jerry Buss, who must now be considered the best sports owner in Los Angeles history.

He spends what it takes, and he had the smarts to hire the now-retired best executive in the history of the NBA. Jerry West's fingerprints will be with this team as long as O'Neal, Bryant, and Fisher are part of it.

"I don't think anybody believed we could really defend the title," Buss said. "But we have the best fans, and the best faith."

It was the fans who pushed the pedal on this playoff sprint, way back on April 22, rattling Staples Center for the playoff opener against Portland in a Game 1 that felt like a Game 7.

The unexpected roars reminded the Lakers exactly who they were and why. O'Neal and Bryant understood exactly.

Their season-long feud over everything from shots to endorsements ended in that playoff opener with O'Neal's 20 rebounds and Bryant's seven assists.

The big guy wasn't going to pout. The kid was going to share. The rest of the NBA never had a chance.

First Portland, then Sacramento, then San Antonio, all towns with big dreams and chants of "Beat L.A." and, ultimately, empty seats and blank stares.

Three series, three sweeps, one quote.

"All I can say is, they're awesome," San Antonio's Steve Kerr said after the Western Conference finals.

Then came Philly, staggering and small, into a Los Angeles so certain of another rout, a guy drove around Staples Center before the opener selling brooms off a truck.

It was the wrong appliance. The Lakers struggled and lost an opening game that required a plunger. The 76ers were quicker, more intense, seemingly tougher.

After a month of easy running, the Lakers had finally come up Heartbreak Hill, their claim to greatness resting solely on their ability to scale it.

And so they climbed, hands freshly bloodied, through a Shaq-blocking Game 2, and Dikembe Mutombo-flopping Game 3.

"Just because we never talk about our heart doesn't mean we don't have one," Tyronn Lue said.

So we learned. A team known for its savvy suddenly showed its strength. And like the pesky runt that has finally realized the giants' wrath, the 76er jaws dropped and their will evaporated.

The Lakers won in a blowout in Game 4, setting up the relatively easy win Friday, although the Lakers walked away dizzy from the journey.

"If you could see the look on my face, my eyes were like a deer in headlights," Fisher said of his feelings after hitting a three-pointer with 51 seconds left for a clinching 10-point lead. "This was just an amazing ride."

Earlier in the quarter, when the 76ers had closed the gap to nine, Fisher nailed an equally dramatic three-pointer over Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie.

With the crowd roaring, he fell backward, watched the ball drop through the net, then carefully put his left index finger to his lips.

But Los Angeles? You can shout.

Shout about Phil Jackson becoming the best playoff coach in history and moving just one championship shy of equaling Red Auerbach's record nine titles.

Shout about Shaquille O'Neal officially becoming the next Wilt Chamberlain, matching Wilt with two titles.

Shout about Kobe Bryant getting better, and Derek Fisher breaking loose, and Robert Horry sticking around for another run.

Shout about a Los Angeles team that has just completed a journey from the chaotic East L.A. interchange to a Malibu dusk. Just don't shout too loud, or too long. O'Neal is 29. Fisher is 26. Bryant is 22.

You may need your voice.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at

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