His day is letter-perfect
The Lakers were in a hurry after Tuesday’s practice, giving perfunctory comments in brief interviews with reporters.
They had somewhere better to go.
A few miles away, Kobe Bryant was about to be recognized by the NBA as the league’s most valuable player, an award 12 years in the making that became official at a crowded hotel ballroom a short shuttle ride from LAX.
Bryant won comfortably over third-year New Orleans guard Chris Paul, collecting 1,100 points to Paul’s 894 and, more telling, 82 first-place votes to only 28 for Paul from the panel of 126 media members. Boston forward Kevin Garnett finished third (670 points, 15 first-place votes) and Cleveland forward LeBron James was fourth (438 points, one first-place vote).
Bryant was ecstatic, humorous and perhaps even relieved as he accepted the award, which will be given to him again tonight, this time by NBA Commissioner David Stern before Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center.
Numerous teammates, coaches and Lakers staffers attended Tuesday’s ceremony, as did owner Jerry Buss, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and former general manager Jerry West.
Bryant thanked his family, his teammates and then recounted an unpredictable ride that started with wanting to leave the Lakers last May and fast-forwarded to him at a lectern, fielding questions about the feeling of winning his first MVP award.
“I get goose bumps thinking about it,” he said. “It’s been a long ride, coming in here at 17 years old and standing here almost 30. I’m an old man. I have tendinitis. I’ve been through all the wars. I’m very proud to represent this organization, to represent this city.”
Bryant also said he wanted to add another award in say, mid-June.
“It’s Hollywood. It’s a movie script,” he said. “The perfect ending would be for us to be holding that championship trophy at the end of it.”
The Lakers could go up 2-0 on Utah tonight, a possibility of secondary importance Tuesday. Several voices lent the opinion that Bryant was due to win the award.
“I don’t know anybody who’s ever deserved this trophy more,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “I’ve never known anybody that’s worked as hard to accomplish what he’s accomplished in this game.”
West, who orchestrated the draft-day trade that brought Bryant from the then-Charlotte Hornets in 1996, said the award was a “richly deserved honor.”
“I just don’t think you find people this competitive who play this game,” he said. “You just don’t. He’s always wanted to be the best, and he is the best today.”
Bryant is the fourth MVP in Lakers history, joining Shaquille O’Neal (once), Magic Johnson (three times) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three).
Bryant’s scoring dipped to 28.3 points a game this season after he won back-to-back scoring titles, but he was more attentive on defense and averaged 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He rarely forced his will on games, a trait that had saddled him in the past.
Bryant and Karl Malone each won MVP awards in their 12th season, tied for the longest wait in league history. Bryant is on a maximum contract, so he does not receive a bonus for winning the award, though he won an SUV from an award sponsor and donated it to the East L.A. Boys & Girls Club.
When reporters began asking Bryant questions, Lakers forward Luke Walton and team consultant Tex Winter created lighter moments by also throwing in some queries.
Walton wondered what Bryant would be buying teammates as thank-you gifts, and Winter asked what Bryant really thought of the triangle offense. (Bryant jokingly rebuked Walton for being a “typical spoiled athlete” and spoke kindly of the triangle, a reversal from earlier in his career when he said it won championships but was boring.)
Bryant also made one more reference to that other trophy.
“There’s nothing like winning a championship,” he said.
Meanwhile, Utah is trying to prepare for Bryant, much less a charged-up newly anointed MVP.
“We don’t have to play against the award. We have to play against [Bryant],” Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said. “Every time I’ve seen him play, he’s played like he’s obsessed most of the time anyways. So I don’t know if he can get more fired up or not.”
The Lakers, for their part, are ready for more fouls from the Jazz.
“We ain’t no punks,” Bryant said. “It’s fine by us.”
It’s still a couple of days away, but Jackson was asked about the difficulties of playing at Utah. Game 3 is Friday at Energy Solutions Arena.
“I numerated some of the things a couple years ago and was fined $50,000,” he said.
He was actually fined $25,000 for criticizing referees a day after a loss in Utah in November 2006, saying the league “throws out some referee corps that you’re dubious about to start with and, you know, the game ends up like that.”
Jackson tried to be more diplomatic Tuesday.
“It’s as noisy as any place you’ve ever been in,” he said. “It energizes the team, intimidates referees that go in there to referee the game. It’s a tough environment to win in.”
He also had one more observation.
“If they get that bear [mascot] to stop blowing the exhaust from the motorcycle in front of our bench for the first two minutes of the warm-ups. . . . After they gas us, it’s not so bad,” he said.
Times staff writers Jonathan Abrams and Jerry Crowe contributed to this report.
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Kobe Bryant is the fourth Laker to win a regular-season most-valuable-player award. Bryant’s former teammate Shaquille O’Neal won the MVP in the 1999-2000 season. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar each won the award three times as a Laker:
*--* SEASON PPG REB AST 2007-08 28.3 6.3 5.4 *--*
* Bryant finally has the hardware to validate his status as the game’s best player. The 10-time All-Star guard did not have his best season statistically, but his leadership and improved team play helped the Lakers to 57 victories and a No. 1 seeding in the highly competitive Western Conference. Bryant finished second in the league in scoring (28.3), ninth in steals (1.8) and fourth in free throws made (7.6).
*--* SEASON PPG REB AST 1999-00 29.7 13.6 3.8 *--*
* Powered the Lakers to a 67-15 record during the regular season and was a dominant force during the Lakers’ championship run. O’Neal captured the NBA Finals MVP, averaging 38 points and 16 rebounds in six games against Indiana. He was one vote away from being the first unanimous MVP winner and was only the third player in NBA history to win MVPs in the regular season, All-Star game and NBA Finals.
*--* SEASON PPG REB AST 1989-90 22.3 6.6 11.5 1988-89 22.5 7.9 12.8 1986-87 23.9 6.3 12.2 *--*
* Johnson posted a career high in scoring (23.9) during the 1986-87 season and led the Lakers to the first of consecutive NBA titles. He won two more MVP awards, but his teams failed to win championships in both seasons. The Lakers were swept by Detroit, 4-0, in the 1989 NBA Finals and lost to Phoenix, 4-1, in the 1990 conference semifinals.
*--* SEASON PPG REB AST 1979-80 24.8 10.8 4.5 1976-77 26.2 13.3 3.9 1975-76 27.7 16.9 5.0 *--*
* Despite Abdul-Jabbar’s MVP effort in 1975-76, the Lakers failed to make the playoffs. The following season, the Lakers lost in the second round to Portland, 4-0. Abdul-Jabbar won the sixth MVP award of his career in 1979-80 (he won three with Milwaukee and three in L.A.), leading the Lakers to the first of five NBA championships during the 1980s.
Los Angeles Times