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Lakers celebrate latest NBA championship


LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Much to the delight of a capacity crowd, the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated the championship they won 4 1/2 months ago before facing the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, who turns 84 later this month, served as master of ceremonies, and commissioner David Stern presented rings to the coaches and players.

The loudest receptions went to coach Phil Jackson, near-unanimous MVP Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

``All of us here in Lakerland bow to Shaq, he carried this team on his back,'' Jackson said. He also paid tribute to retired executive vice president Jerry West and veteran Ron Harper before speaking of a possible repeat as the fans roared.

Following the ring ceremony, the newest championship banner joined the previous six on the Staples Center wall as ``We Are The Champions'' blared. The entire ceremony lasted 15 minutes.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss purchased about 100 championship rings for around $7,500 apiece, for every full-time Lakers employee to celebrate the team's first championship since 1988. Each ring is engraved with the phrase, ``Bling-Bling,'' O'Neal's way of describing the glitter of a championship ring's diamonds.

Forward Robert Horry missed the ceremony. He was in Alabama to attend his grandmother's funeral.

Earlier, Jackson said the celebration was, in his mind, the last aspect of celebrating the title, although he added, ``There's something nice about listening to the lineups being introduced for 80 more games: `Defending NBA champions.' ''

The ring was Jackson's seventh as a coach; the first six came with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.

``This experience is new and in a different place,'' said Jackson, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract to coach the Lakers in June 1999.

Jackson said his rings are in a safety deposit box. He wore one during the playoffs last spring.

``They're not the greatest rings to wear,'' he said. ``When you clap your hands, they give you a bone bruise.''

John Salley, who served as a backup to O'Neal last season, was the only member of the championship team not on the current club to attend the ceremony. Glen Rice and Travis Knight now play for the New York Knicks; A.C. Green signed with Miami earlier this week; and John Celestand is a free agent.

Salley, who hosts BET Live on the Black Entertainment Network five nights a week, previously played for championship teams in Detroit and Chicago.

``I'm just going to wear the new one,'' he said of his fourth championship ring. ``I couldn't make a decision on which finger to put it on. I'm going to put it next to my wedding ring on my left hand.''

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