The series meant an awful lot to Mario, because he's a native New Yorker. The Knicks fans subjected him to some pretty rough treatment with their chanting, but he loved it. We probably wouldn't have won the title without the energy and passion he brought to our team after joining us as a free agent this season, though he ruffled a few feathers along the way, including mine. I didn't like a lot of the things he said early in the season, not just to the press but behind closed doors. Mario would get frustrated after we'd lose a game, and he'd tell the reporters, "These guys will never win." We started 6-8, and Mario judged us before he really knew us. He said this team showed no emotion and didn't know how to win. I told him to just shut up and play. But Mario's going to run his mouth. That's his style. I don't have a problem with that as long as you want to win, which he definitely does. Once he got to know the character of this team, he became an asset to us.
Except for Tim, we're a collection of guys who people thought were lacking some quality or other, but our coach, Gregg Popovich, didn't buy into reputations. Pop made up his own mind about each of us, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. In fact, the two guys I'm probably happiest for, besides myself, are Avery and Sean, because they've had every bad thing you can think of said about them at one time or another. Sean's also been injured a lot, and he went through that nightmare six years ago when he was traded to the Pistons. I wasn't in Detroit, but every rime you mention that city, the hair stands up on the back of his neck. He was sick part of that season, and I can only guess at how unhappy he was there.
This championship is gratifying on so many levels, and one of them is that I think Avery and I have given even more evidence that having a strong religious faith doesn't mean that you can't be a tough competitor. I can't overstate how important my faith has been to me as an athlete and as a person. It's helped me deal with so many things, including matters of ego and pride. For instance, I can't deny that it felt weird to see Tim standing on the podium with the Finals MVP trophy. I was thinking, Man, never have I come to the end of a tournament and not been the one holding up that trophy. It was hard. But I thought about the Bible story of David and Goliath. David helped King Saul win a battle, but the king wasn't happy because he had killed thousands of men while David had killed tens of thousands. So King Saul couldn't enjoy the victory because he was thinking about David's getting more credit than he was. I'm blessed that God has given me the ability to just enjoy the victory. So Tim killed the tens of thousands. That's great. I'm happy for him.
I'm not totally caught up in the hardware, though. After the game on Friday night some photographers wanted a picture of me kissing the championship trophy. I told them that I'm not kissing anything that doesn't kiss me back. Everybody thinks the trophy and the ring are the ultimate things, but as valuable as they are, they're just things. They'll wind up on a shelf somewhere, but the experience of winning them, the journey, will be right here in my heart forever. Our guys will take more away from this season than just the fact that we won the title. They'll remember how we won it. They'll think about the way we bonded, the way we trusted in one another day after day, and that's even more important.
Some people said that whichever team won the title should have an asterisk beside its name, because of the shortened season and the fact that Michael Jordan and the Bulls broke up. I say no way. We went 15-2 in the playoffs, we beat everybody we needed to beat, and we beat them mighty convincingly. Would I like to have played the Bulls? Yes. I think we would have matched up so well with them, especially in the frontcourt. I can't say we definitely would have beaten them, but I don't think you can say that they had a clear advantage over us, either.
Before games all year long, we would have our little huddle and say, "What's our goal? Finals!" It's obviously time to reset the goals. Two championships would be nice, three would be even better. I love having the target on my back. It's as if I finally have what everyone else wants. Let's see them try to take it away from me.
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