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It's Easy to See How These Parts Add Up to Three

June 13, 2002|RICK MAJERUS

Let's congratulate this Laker team and then break it down into its elements. I'm a coach. It is what a coach does, break things down.

Shaquille O'Neal, simply stated, is a warrior. He played this season through pain, through triple teams, through every defense any coach with a yellow legal pad could concoct. He played through occasionally being forsaken by his teammates, who had to come to the realization that they had to work well and play well together or this championship could have ended up residing in Cow Town.

Shaq brought it every night. He played through the double and triple teams with poise and unselfishness. He rebounded out of area and in traffic and now, almost best of all, he has become a Be-Like-Mike at the free-throw line as well.

Although he may never get credit for it in the public eye, the giant who is Shaq is now without peer, either past or present, in the game as we know it.

Then there is Kobe Bryant. As a coach, I want to tip my hat to him because, he does what we all want all our players to do: HE GUARDS! He not only plays excellent defense but takes pride in it. And irrespective of the occasional bad shot, this guy could very well be the best on-ball defender in the game today.

Then there is the supporting cast: Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox. They are what role players are supposed to be. They all defend, on and off the ball. They all compete for rebounds. And they all do a great job of opportunistically letting the game come to them.

I would be remiss if I didn't recognize the founder of the feast. Jerry West is the best in his profession. Somewhere today, in the Land of Blue Suede Shoes, the King is going to come back. Only this king has arrived on a plane from the West Coast.

If they made this team into a movie, the main credits would go to West, Phil Jackson, and a cast of dedicated assistant coaches. Won't somebody out there take a chance on Frankie Hamblen, a lifer on the bench, who could resurrect a moribund program? (Are you listening in Denver, Kiki Vandeweghe?)

Then there is Mitch Kupchak. Although not the household name of his predecessor, Laker Land is lucky to have such an astute, shrewd associate producer.

Finally, I'm going to buy a book about the Zen Master, because I, too, want to call fewer timeouts and not have to use as much stick deodorant come game time. Jackson is unflappable. I admire his poise and composure, as well as the relationship he has with his players. You can sense the trust and confidence, and you can sense it goes both ways.

As for New Jersey, it entered the domain of the NBA West and was unceremoniously exposed for what the East was this season. Weak.

The Nets should celebrate their good season, not downplay their regular-season accomplishments. Then they should look themselves in the mirror, vow not to get a second black eye next season and pledge among themselves to play tougher, go deeper and be more poised. They need to pledge their off-season, just as the Magics and Birds and Jordans of the NBA world did, to become more skilled.

It has been an honor and a privilege to have been asked to do this. I've had a lot of fun, but I'm going to keep my day job, despite what some of the Runnin' Ute booster groups might be hoping.

I will not lose the appreciation I acquired for how hard it is to do this on a daily basis and how good most of these guys are on tough deadlines. There are exceptions, but those write for Page 2.

So it is over. Happy three-peat.

And just to show how Hollywood-ized I've become, here's my final word.




Rick Majerus, Utah basketball coach, was The Times' guest analyst on the Lakers for the playoffs. Majerus, the fourth-winningest active coach in major college basketball, will begin his 14th season at Utah this fall.

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