Kobe Bryant sat alone in a shower, the voices of his teammates echoing off the tiles. Exhausted, a little sad, utterly satisfied, he cradled a championship trophy in his arms.
Not far away, Shaquille O'Neal danced and sang in a 10-magnum champagne spray, presented by his teammates.
Theirs are the faces of another championship season for the Lakers, their second in a row, this one settled late Friday night. The Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 108-96, at First Union Center to win the NBA title in five games.
"We were just out to prove that we can do it this time around," Bryant said, finally. "We just went through so much adversity, so much ups and downs. It was good to win it. You have mixed emotions. But, as far as a dynasty, I don't know. We'll see what happens."
Robert Horry observed his teammates from the doorway, and marveled at what they had done, and he along with them. Terribly flawed in the regular season, the Lakers grew and became the best postseason team in NBA history. They lost once, in overtime, from five points ahead in overtime, and won 15 games. They won all eight road games, showing poise few saw in them.
Maybe they'll never again have to think about the cold winter days when they could barely meet each other's eyes. Maybe that's what dripped from their deep purple uniforms, that and flat-out joy, as big and bold as some had ever felt.
"It's closure," Horry said, passing his arm across them. "So much turmoil. So many problems. So many people talking about what we weren't going to do. It's closure. That's what it boils down to."
O'Neal, who averaged 33.0 points and 15.8 rebounds and had 17 blocks in five games, was Finals most valuable player for the second consecutive year. Indeed, he has changed his legacy in only two seasons, from the man who could not win to the man starting a collection of championship trophies.
"The first championship was to get the monkey off my back," O'Neal said. "Now, the ones that I get from now on will just be to try to stamp my name in history, as far as myself, as far as for whatever team I'm on."
At 22, Bryant has won two titles, and he moved afterward with a glaze in his eyes, as though it weren't altogether real.
O'Neal had 29 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5 and Bryant had 26 points and 12 rebounds. Derek Fisher sat afterward with his left arm around his mother. Both were soaked in champagne. Fisher's left cheek was smeared with pink lipstick, his mother's shade. He scored 18 points, all on six three-pointers in eight attempts, two in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers held off the 76ers.
"Looking back," Fisher said, "I wouldn't have it any other way. But maybe you never get a chance to be in this locker room, on the bus, on the floor with the same 15 guys. That's the disappointing part. It's almost heartbreaking."
The rest hid it well.
By the end, before they could do it again, Laker Coach Phil Jackson had reminded them daily to stay in the moment, to play in the moment, and they did.
The moments piled up, into eight consecutive victories to end the regular season, and 23 wins in their final 24 games overall. O'Neal was dominant again. In 16 postseason games he averaged 30.4 points and 15.4 rebounds. Bryant was slick and determined. The role players--"Super Friends," they called themselves--did remarkable things in the playoffs. Rick Fox scored 20 points in Game 5.
"Shaq was the dominant player," Jackson said. "He was the guy that was the motivator and the energizer for our team."
The eighth championship in Los Angeles Laker history is the second under Jackson. He arrived two years ago today. As a head coach, Jackson won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and so he has eight, one fewer than Red Auerbach, who won his over a 10-year span with the Boston Celtics.
Ron Harper's championship is his fifth, "One for my thumb," he said of the ring that will arrive next fall. Horace Grant and Horry have four each.
The old held off the aging process by a handful of months, and kept their legs, or at least saved them for the postseason. The young grew up, Bryant and Fisher first, and then Tyronn Lue, in a series in which everyone learned his name.
There was the chill of inevitability Friday. And still Philadelphia--its fans, its team--held a defiant posture.
The 76ers came as hard as the Lakers assumed they would, and Allen Iverson, who scored 37 points, shot that side-saddle shot and kept shooting, as they figured he would. And Tyrone Hill returned to the series, particularly as a rebounder, just in time for the 76ers to get some second-chance points near the basket.
Down two games and running out of ideas, Larry Brown started Eric Snow for Jumaine Jones, which made the 76ers smaller and quicker. The pace was fast early, and somewhat reckless. Iverson picked up his third foul with 42 seconds left in the first quarter, and scored 11 first-quarter points.
The Lakers didn't play their best game, only their last one.
Dikembe Mutombo, acquired at the trading deadline for this series in particular, fouled out with 3:41 remaining. The game center scored 13 points but lacked the heft to fight back O'Neal.
The Lakers made 12 of 17 three-pointers. When Fisher made his fifth, when it fell through the basket through a hail of "Beat L.A.!" cries and pushed the Lakers' fourth-quarter lead to 96-84, Fisher raised a forefinger to his lips.
The Lakers pushed through the final minutes with one eye on the clock and another on the lead. Iverson would finish the series as he started it, without a conscience and clinging dearly to every moment.
"It was an unbelievable run for us in the playoffs," Jackson said. "We played at a level in which we thought and visualized ourselves playing during the course of the year.
"Literally, their focus and concentration was incredible during this period of time. They were good. Hours spent in videotape, coaching energy that we spent on this team. They absorbed it and they absorbed the lessons learned from last year's playoffs very well."
Said Bryant: "I'll tell you what, right now it's a thing of the past. Next year, when people see us talking aggressively, it's not gonna be a thing of the past. Someone's going to blow it out of proportion until we win another championship, and it's gonna happen again. It's a cycle. It's gonna happen like that. We'll do our best to try to keep a team effort, keep a community. Hopefully, we won't have to go through what we went through this year. I don't think we will."
For expanded coverage of the NBA Finals, including photo galleries and postgame interviews, visit the Times' Web site: latimes.com/nbaplayoffs.
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By The Numbers
13: NBA championships won by the Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers franchise.
8: NBA championships won by Los Angeles Lakers, and Phil Jackson as a coach.
15-1: Laker record in 2001 playoffs, with .937 percentage being the best in NBA history.
12.8: Scoring differential in the playoffs for the Lakers, who beat opponents by double digits nine times.
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Philadelphia 107, Lakers 101, OT
Lakers 98, Philadelphia 89
Lakers 96, Philadelphia 91
Lakers 100, Philadelphia 86
Lakers 108, Philadelphia 96
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The Lakers struggled for most of the regular season before winning their final nine to finish with 56 victories and in first place in the Pacific Division. The following are the NBA champions with the fewest victories since the regular season was expanded to 82 games in 1967-68:
Season Champion Reg. Season 1977-78 Washington 44-38, .536 1994-95 Houston 47-35, .573 1968-69 Boston 48-34, .585 1974-75 Golden State 48-34, .585 1976-77 Portland 49-33, .598 1978-79 Seattle 52-30, .634 1967-68 Boston 54-28, .659 1975-76 Boston 54-28, .659 1973-74 Boston 56-26, .683 2000-01 Lakers 56-26, .683 1972-73 New York 57-25, .695 1981-82 Lakers 57-25, .695 1992-93 Chicago 57-25, .695