Kobe Bryant proved there was life after Shaquille O'Neal when he led the Los Angeles Lakers to their 15th NBA crown with a convincing win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday.
Bryant captured his fourth overall title as the Lakers eased to a 4-1 series triumph with a 99-86 Game 5 victory, but the success was the first without his former giant teammate taking center-stage.
"From the standpoint of responding to the challenge, from people saying I couldn't do it without him, that feels good, because you prove people wrong," he said. "So from that standpoint it feels extremely good to do that."
The 30-year-old Bryant was named the MVP of the finals, the first time he won the championship and not had to watch O'Neal accept the coveted award at midcourt.
Bryant called the criticism that he needed O'Neal to win the title "silly".
"Every team has a dynamic duo," he said. "It's a shame. But it is what it is. I wasn't going to try to argue about it. That does nothing. So you just accept the challenge and try to prove them wrong."
Bryant said, however, the title teams he had with O'Neal were "special".
"We're great as individuals, but then you look at these two teams it's probably the first dynamic duo that had two alpha males on one team.
"We managed to make it work for three championships. For me it's about the years that we had but also enjoying the ones to come."
The Magic were in search of their first title but had no answer for Bryant, who averaged 32.4 points a game during the finals.
An 11-time All-Star and 2008 MVP, Bryant said his children had been calling him "Grumpy" during the playoff run because he had been so focused on winning the title.
But he was all smiles after the Lakers emerged victorious with Bryant admitting the six-game setback to the Boston Celtics in last year's finals was a great motivator.
At the final buzzer Bryant said: "It felt like a big old monkey was off my back.
"For us with the collection of guys that are so young and having gone through what we went through last year and having the goal in mind of trying to get back to this point.
"To have the attitude of we're going to become a better defensive team, better rebounding team, and then to actually do it, it feels like I'm dreaming right now."
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily June 16, 2009)