Kobe Bryant says (sort of) that he’ll be back
Three days after the championship, it was time for the celebration.
But for many Lakers fans, the biggest reward Wednesday was the strong hint dropped by Kobe Bryant.
Coming off his first MVP performance in the NBA Finals, Bryant exuberantly shared thoughts of his future among cheering fans at the Lakers’ championship rally.
“Where am I going to go?” he said into a microphone when asked if he would stay with the Lakers. “This is my home.”
Bryant was speaking in front of a packed crowd at the Coliseum, the end point for a celebratory parade that began Wednesday at 11:22 a.m. at Staples Center.
Bryant, 30, can become an unrestricted free agent next month by terminating his Lakers contract with two more years and $47.8 million on it. The 13-year veteran could then re-sign with the Lakers for five years and about $135 million.
“It’s been a blast being here from ’96 to now,” he said to the crowd. “Here we are, back on top. This feels unbelievable. We have a young team, a team that has a lot of chemistry. We want to do this thing again and again. We’ll be back next year, ready to go. We’re going to keep on rolling.”
Mercifully, Mark Madsen was not around to show off his dancing talents, though there were plenty of other events to remember Wednesday.
Players displayed a variety of emotions while riding in a caravan of double-decker buses to the Coliseum.
Bryant yelled out, extended his right arm and pounded his chest. Luke Walton smoked a cigar and relaxed with his girlfriend at his side. Derek Fisher might have been the most animated player, clapping his hands and raising his arms seemingly without pause on the slow two-mile ride that took almost an hour to complete.
When the Lakers arrived at the Coliseum, they gathered on the basketball court imported from Staples Center and placed in the end zone near the peristyle.
Coach Phil Jackson didn’t take part in the bus caravan but waited quietly for the team to arrive while sitting in the back of a black SUV at the Coliseum. Lakers owner Jerry Buss did not attend the parade, as is his custom, choosing instead to watch it at home.
Fisher carried the championship trophy into the Coliseum as “I Love L.A.” played in the background. When he got to the center of the court, Fisher raised the trophy above his head as the crowd roared.
Several players took turns addressing the crowd.
“This is the most fun that I’ve ever had on a winning team,” Fisher said. “This is the best city in the world to be a champion. We’re the champs. We’re the best. Anybody want to do this again next year?”
Pau Gasol suggested that another victory parade would be in store a year from now.
“We’re still hungry,” he said. “We’re not done yet. We want more. After experiencing what we experienced in the parade coming here and being in this beautiful stadium, we want to definitely offer you more. So be ready for it.”
Walton, a six-year veteran who had lost in two previous trips to the Finals, reminded fans that his father, Bill, received one of his two championship rings with the Boston Celtics, the Lakers’ longtime rival.
The kicker, supplied by Walton: “My ring is with a better franchise than his ring is with.”
Walton also referred to a vision of the Lakers going into next season with “Coach Jackson coaching us.”
Jackson, 63, is expected to return next season, though he did not divulge his plans Wednesday.
A few minutes before the players arrived at the Coliseum, Lakers public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter asked the crowd to acknowledge longtime Lakers consultant Tex Winter and the lateplay-by-play announcer Chick Hearn. Winter is recovering from a stroke sustained two months ago. Hearn died in 2002, a couple of months after the Lakers won a third consecutive championship. . . . Bryant did not wear the white Adidas championship T-shirts worn by most of his teammates. Instead, he sported a dark shirt by Nike, decorated with a brown open palm (with four fingers) and rings on each finger, part of Nike’s promotional “puppet” campaign. . . . The crowd booed when Lakers radio commentator Mychal Thompson mentioned that Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James won the regular-season MVP award. Thompson quickly said he knew Bryant would get a better award, the Finals MVP. Thompson then added, “Three more to pass those ugly Celtics.”
Times staff writer Mario Aguirre contributed to this report.