ORLANDO, Fla. - Kobe Bryant has the NBA title he needed most - the one without Shaq.
Bryant's seven-year chase of a coveted championship is over. He's got his fourth, and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson has his record 10th, a ring for each finger. One year after failing in the NBA Finals, Bryant and the Lakers found redemption.
They earned the 15th title in franchise history tonight as Bryant scored 30 points and Pau Gasol added 14 and 15 rebounds in a 99-86 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 5.
"It's so tough to win a championship. We had to start over from scratch," said Bryant, who was named MVP of the finals. "It feels like a dream."
It took longer than Bryant expected, but he has stepped out of former teammate Shaquille O'Neal's enormous shadow.
His coach stands alone.
Jackson, the chilled-out, bow-legged Zen Master who won six league titles in the 1990s with Michael Jordan in Chicago, now has won No. 4 with Los Angeles. He broke a tie with legendary Boston coach Red Auerbach as the winningest coach in NBA Finals history.
"I'll smoke the cigar tonight in memory of Red," Jackson said. "He was a great guy."
Jackson "doesn't try to control you, he empowers you to be what you can be, as good as you can be," said guard Derek Fisher, who joined the Lakers along with Bryant as a rookie in the 1996-97 season.
Bryant and Jackson, whose relationship strained and briefly snapped under the weight of success, are again at the top of their games together.
Nothing was going to stop Bryant, who spent the postseason scowling, snarling, baring his teeth and all but breathing fire at anything in his path. For weeks, the all-star has worn his game face, and only when the victory was his in the final seconds did former Lower Merion High star allow himself to smile.
After the final horn, he leaped into the air and was quickly engulfed by his teammates, who bounced around the floor of Amway Arena. Bryant then gave a long, heartfelt hug and shared a few words with Jackson before sweeping up his daughters, both wearing gold Lakers dresses, in his arms.
Bryant had come up short twice in the finals before, in 2004 with O'Neal against Detroit, and again last season against the Boston Celtics in the renewal of the league's best rivalry. The Lakers were beaten in six games, losing the finale in Boston by 39 points, a humiliating beatdown that Bryant and his teammates had trouble shaking.
They went to training camp with one goal in mind. This was going to be their season.
After beating Utah in the first round, Los Angeles was forced to go seven games against Houston, which lost center Yao Ming to an injury. The Lakers then took care of Denver in six games, setting up a matchup with the Magic, who made their first visit to the finals since O'Neal took them there in 1995.