Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was sitting at LAX Airport yesterday afternoon still in awe at what happened the night before.
Kobe Bryant was stopped by one man.
That "man" was someone who Karl needed, among others, in the summer of 2002 when he was coaching the U.S. national team at the World Championships in Indianapolis.
That "man" was Paul Pierce, who was Karl's best player on that team, a player he battled with on and off the court for much of that disappointing and embarrassing sixth-place finish.
Karl was in Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4 of the NBA finals to see his son, Coby, a 25-year-old rookie benchwarmer with the Lakers.
He also got an up-close-and-personal view of Pierce, who we might as well call his prodigal son.
"Paul's performance (Thursday night), especially in the second half when he was covering Kobe (Bryant), was not only the best I've ever seen him play," said Karl, "it was maybe the best I've ever seen anyone play. Paul is noted for his offense, but what he was able to do covering Kobe was amazing, especially coming in the NBA finals."
Karl says other than a shake here and a wave there, he has not spoken to Pierce, one on one, since that difficult experience in Indianapolis.
The experience for both was humbling.
After coasting through wins over Algeria, Germany and China, Karl's team lost consecutive games to Argentina (87-80) and Yugoslavia (81-78), thus missing the medal round. The loss to Spain, 81-75, in the fifth-place game was the straw the broke the camel's back.
"When we lost Reggie Miller due to an ankle sprain, we needed Paul to play at higher level and play big minutes against the best teams," said Karl. "Look, 2002 was difficult for everybody and Paul, being our best player, probably bore the brunt of it."