Legacy is defined as:
Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.
In essence, when you are dead and gone, the lasting impression will you leave behind.
Kobe Bryant’s overall career has always been fascinating to me because it has never been black or white. It always had a lot of shades of gray to it.
Most star players, their story isn’t very complicated.
Someone like Tom Brady, his story is unusual, but if you were watching it in the movie theater you would know the ending twenty minutes into the film.
From the time Kobe dropped his high school girlfriend to go to the prom with Brandy, you never knew what to expect.
His story is ¾ of the way over and we still don’t know what the ending will be, but last night he took a giant leap toward solidifying himself on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA.
At the beginning of the Finals I wrote about how important this was for Kobe Bryant’s legacy, because at this point of his career all that matters are championships.
I cannot fully express the difference between losing in the Finals to Boston twice (dropping his Finals record to 4-3) and avenging his loss to Boston (moving his record to 5-2); words don’t capture it. Added to the fact the loss would have been Game 7 at home, the repercussions of that would have been felt for a long time.
As I watched Game 7 two things were perfectly clear.
It was an awful game and it was an awful performance by Bryant in the biggest game of his career. I decided to watch the game again (on the DVR) and the one thing I noticed is while Bryant was playing bad he was playing with passion, he was hustling and he was doing the little things that the box score would never tally.
In the 4th quarter he was gassed, he literally left everything out on the court.
Kobe has always been super competitive, but in the past that competitive nature sometimes had a negative effect on his teammates. If there is one major thing that has changed over the past three years, it’s that his teammates don’t want to let him down.
That is when you know you have crossed over into a leadership position. The Lakers could have folded several times during that game. When you are playing that bad it is hard to keep up defensively, but they grinded it out in a way most people didn’t think was possible for them.
That is a testament to Kobe Bryant’s leadership.
His teammates wouldn’t allow his legacy to be tarnished and that is what I meant when I said it would be his teammates who would determine where his legacy goes from here.
On his biggest night, Superman put on a Clark Kent-style performance, but the rest of the Justice League came through for him against the Legion of Doom.
The question now becomes where Kobe Bryant ranks in NBA history.
Before the series started I broke down my top 6 players of all time, and the list went like this:
1- Michael Jordan
2- Wilt Chamberlain
3- Magic Johnson
4- Bill Russell
5- Larry Bird
6- Kobe Bryant
With his 5th ring in 7 Finals appearances, a 3-peat and a back-to-back under his belt, I am going to move him ahead of Bird and Russell.
My reasoning for Bird is simple; he has more titles and he has been a dominant player for a longer period of time than Bird was.
Russell is a little bit harder because you are talking about someone who won 11 championships in 13 years, but the reason I move Kobe slightly ahead of Russell is that it is much harder to win championships now (more rounds, longer series, and more competitive balance), and those Celtics teams of the 60’s were stacked with Hall of Famers from top to bottom. Russell was the leader (even coach for a time) but he wasn’t always the main guy, he didn’t have to be.
The moves him into 4th right behind Magic Johnson, and this is a good time to address the nonsense of the Jordan vs. Kobe debate.
I heard someone say earlier today:
“I hate Kobe — he is just trying to be like Michael Jordan.”
Let me say that is one of the most ridiculous statements in the history of mankind. If you were a teenager in the late 80’s to early 90’s and played basketball, you wanted to be like Michael Jordan. Everyone stuck their tongue out when they were going to the rim, everyone was trying to do the layup where they switched hands, and everyone was trying to perfect the fadeaway jumper.
The only difference between Kobe Bryant and Harold Minor is Kobe is such a perfectionist and works on his game so much he was able to mirror the moves better than anyone else.
Last time I checked, LeBron James wasn’t wearing 23 just because he thought it was a cool number.
Use some common sense — all great players mirror their game after someone and then add to it. You think Michael Jordan didn’t see Dr. J dunking from the free throw line? Where do you think Magic Johnson learned that baby hook from?
Legacy is about perfecting your craft and building on. The way you perfect your craft is by studying the greats who did it before.
Furthermore, Kobe’s career path is totally different than Michael Jordan’s career path, so once again you can’t compare apples to apples. Jordan came in day 1 as the undisputed leader of the Bulls and the team was constructed around him. It took MJ a long seven years before he even sniffed a title. The youngins don’t remember, but the same things you hear about LeBron James now, you used to hear about Michael Jordan. Career path-wise, LeBron and Jordan match up much better than Kobe and Jordan.
The best thing for everyone to do is to calm down on the MJ vs. Kobe comparisons until Kobe’s complete body of work is done, then you can give your opinion. Remember, these are just opinions — there are no right or wrong answers, just don’t look like an idiot when you are presenting your case.
Going back to Magic Johnson, if you look at Kobe’s career it is much similar to Magic’s than Jordan’s. Magic came to the Lakers where they already had an established big man in Kareem (similar to Shaq and Kobe).
They both won championships early in their career, they both had to exact revenge on the Celtics, and they both lost multiple Finals.
As his career progressed, Magic became more of the focal point of the team, whereas before he deferred to Kareem.
Same with Kobe … except he didn’t have to defer to Shaq anymore because he was shipped out of town.
They both have five titles and both have strong cases for being crowned the greatest Laker of all time, which brings us back to legacy.
The reason why this championship was so critical was because like a great boxer, Kobe only has so many fights left in him.
Just look around at the players who were drafted the same year as Kobe — the majority of them are out of the league or on their last legs (AI, Camby, Marbury, Allen, Nash, Stokjaovic, Big Z, and Jermaine O’Neal, to name a few).
You look at stars like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan who still are great from time to time, but are nowhere near their peak. Then you have Bryant, who many still consider the best player in the game, but if you look closely, his body has been breaking down over the past few years as well — he has just masked it better.
In Game 6 he had a breakaway dunk and he passed it to the younger Shannon Brown, whose head was over the rim when he dunked. Just a subtle sign that Kobe has turned into more of a “Cerebral Assassin” (props to Triple HHH).
He knows there isn’t a lot of tread left on his tires, and while his statue is being built on the NBA Mount Rushmore, there’s a big difference between being Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Bryant will always have critics, he is just that type of individual that people can only hate or love, but at this point anything critical you say about him is nitpicking.
He has been the best basketball player in the world since we hit the 2000s; if he walked away from the game right now, everybody’s list should feature him in their top 10 (rankings will vary), and for that, his legacy is secure.
But the final chapter of the Kobe Bryant book hasn’t been written yet.
I know what Kobe wants.
He wants seven rings and everyone knows why.
The question: does he have enough time left? How will The Summer of LeBron affect his chances? When will his body break down to the point he can’t carry the team? Will the Lakers “B” Squad stay as hungry as he is? What will the Lakers do in free agency? What about Andrew Bynum’s knee?
Pretty good book, isn’t it?
Can’t wait to see how it ends.