The last time we left Kobe Bryant in Boston during the NBA Finals, people wondered would he ever get over the hump. Would he ever get that elusive title without Shaq? Were his teammates tough enough? Was he destined to always come up a little short of being mentioned in the Mount Rushmore of the NBA?
Two years later, Kobe is back and a lot of those questions have been answered. He has his title without Shaq; his teammates proved their worthiness in helping him to that title, and you can make a strong argument that he has positioned himself to be on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA.
At this point of Kobe’s career, only one thing matters:
From the time he spun away from a double-team and hit a fadeaway 27-footer with two hands in his face to seal the fate of the Phoenix Suns, you started to hear the whispers:
My rule of thumb in regard to Kobe and MJ is that no comparison is fair until Kobe’s career is over. I said that in 2005 and I will say it again in 2010.
One thing that Jordan did – and all the legendary players have done – was avenge their most bitter defeats. As a young Bona Fide Sports Expert, I remember watching Game 7 of the Pistons vs. Bulls in 1990 (the infamous Scottie Pippen Migraine game) and seeing Jordan on the bench as the last few seconds slowly ticked away.
If looks could kill, the entire Bulls bench would have been hacked up like Jack the Ripper had infiltrated them.
Fast forward to 2008 and you see Kobe on the podium with steam coming out of his ears, trying not to let on how, in essence, the Lakers quit in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.
It is that type of focus and desire that separates champions from the Vince Carters of the world.
Kobe now has a unique opportunity; to kill two more birds with one stone. The Celtics think the Lakers are soft. They think if they punch them in the mouth, they will fold. They feel if they harass Kobe enough and force the other Lakers to win the game, they will come up short. Same way the Pistons felt about the Bulls and Jordan.
Jordan eventually figured it out, and the Bulls – specifically Scottie Pippen – gave him the necessary help to get over the hump; beating the Pistons helped Jordan’s legacy.
The same goes for Kobe; beating the Magic or the Cavs would have been great, but not as great as beating the Celtics. Avenging the 2008 loss to a bitter rival would bring back memories of how Magic bounced back and beat the Celtics after a rough go-around in 1984.
Beyond the personal aspect, there is a historical slant at stake as well. This is Kobe Bryant’s 7th NBA Finals, and a win here will give him five rings.
When you are talking about five championships, you are on hallowed ground. For the record, my Top 5 NBA players of all time are (my opinion, no need to debate):
1- Michael Jordan
2- Wilt Chamberlain
3- Magic Johnson
4- Bill Russell
5- Kobe Bryant/Larry Bird
If Kobe wins a 5th ring (and that is a big if), he jumps Bird & Russell and he becomes 3a to Magic. If he loses, he stays where he is and loses another year in his quest to move up the ladder.
There is a lot at stake, but ironically, Kobe’s fate is not really in his hands.
We know what he can do, but this series will be decided by Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmer & Shannon Brown (maybe even Adam Morrison……Just playing).
No one gets to the mountain top alone, sometimes they need a push. I keep hearing that the Lakers remember how they felt after they lost in 2008. That sounds good before the series starts, but what is going to happen when KG starts dropping MF’s like Andrew Dice Clay?
In the end, Kobe Bryant’s continuing legacy is in the hands of his teammates, and in that regard his is no different than Jordan’s. You always knew that Jordan would bring it, but when he needed John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and countless others to come up big for him, they did.
Will the Lakers do the same?
Kobe’s Legacy is depending on it.