Since Tuesday night’s Game 6 win, any discussion surrounding the Lakers in Game 7 tends to revert back to what this game means for Kobe Bryant’s legacy. Although Bryant has already cemented himself as one of the greatest to ever play the game, Game 7 may shape forever how people in the future remember him.
As mentioned in many articles before, Game 7 will affect the legacies and futures of all involved, including Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Ron Artest, and the Big Three. However, none will be scrutinized or praised more depending on the outcome of this game than Kobe.
What will a win tonight do for Bryant’s legacy? What about a loss? Let’s take a look at what’s at stake in the biggest game of Kobe “Bean” Bryant’s career.
A loss tonight to the Celtics would allow Lakers and Kobe haters everywhere to rejoice. Despite winning four titles during his career, Kobe has been unable to shake the idea that the first three rings were because of Shaq only.
While saying that Kobe needed Shaq and Shaq didn’t need Kobe to win is ridiculous, the fact is it is a common argument used by people who don’t believe Bryant belongs in the discussion of upper-echelon greats. All one really needs to do to see what Kobe brought to the Lakers during that three-peat is check the box score, but the fact of the matter is that Shaq took home the Finals MVPs and thus gets the lion’s share of credit.
A loss tonight would drop Bryant to 1-2 in the NBA Finals since the Lakers became his team, further pushing the argument that he can’t lead a team when it matters most. While an NBA title last year should have dispelled this notion, many people believe that the Lakers would not have won that title had the Celtics been healthy. A loss tonight wouldn’t prove that point, but it would definitely strengthen the argument.
Lastly, a Lakers defeat tonight would almost automatically put to rest any arguments about whether or not Kobe should be included in the debate for best player of all-time. He will drop to 4-3 for his career in the Finals, and stay two short of the six that Michael Jordan won.
A win tonight would have the opposite effect on his legacy. First, the obvious: it would give Kobe his fifth ring. Title number five would tie Kobe with Magic Johnson, and most likely propel Kobe ahead of Magic in the argument about who the greatest Laker of all-time is. While the number of rings is equal, the fact that Kobe was able to do it with two completely different groups of players and add a repeat to his first three-peat would edge him ahead of Magic. At the worst, everyone would remember Kobe as 1 or 1A for greatest Laker ever.
Most importantly, a fifth title will put him one short of MJ, and with three more years with the same core of this Lakers team, put Kobe in a position where he could possibly surpass MJ by reaching seven rings.
A fifth title also pushes the argument that Kobe has reached Jordan’s level. While it’s hard to put Kobe ahead of MJ, you would have to put him into the discussion with a win tonight.
I’ll pause while most of you cuss out your computers and rant about how Kobe isn’t even close to being on that level … done? Perfect.
Something we always hear about is the Kobe-Lebron debate, and then people will flip out when you mention a Kobe-MJ debate. To me, this makes absolutely no sense. While Lebron is a great player, he isn’t on Kobe’s level. In fact, he isn’t even close to Kobe’s level, as these playoffs have proven to everyone there’s a huge difference between regular season dominance and playoff dominance.
All season long people talked about Lebron’s greatness, his MVP credentials, and how he was the best player in the league. Then James got knocked out in the second round and is now watching Kobe head towards another ring and another Finals MVP. People are quick to make what I see as a disrespectful comparison to what Kobe has accomplished by putting a ringless Lebron on his level, but the second you mention Kobe-MJ there is an uproar.
I won’t even make the argument, I’ll allow a former Jordan teammate to do it for me. As reported by ESPN:
But some coaches, executives and scouts within the league believe that Kobe is equal to if not better than Jordan. They say he’s a better shooter and ball handler. One of Jordan’s former teammates once strongly implied to me that Kobe was MJ’s superior.
“All I know is Mike never scored 81 points in a game,” he said. “And believe me, he tried.”
The fact is, Kobe is the closest thing we’ve seen to Jordan, and a win tonight not only puts him ahead of Magic as the greatest Laker of all-time, but launches him into the discussion for greatest player of all-time. Now I’m in no way saying I would put Kobe ahead of Jordan right now, but with a win tonight you could definitely make the case that Bryant can reach that level before it’s all said and done.
If the Lakers win tonight they will have 16 rings, one shy of their only real NBA rival, the Boston Celtics. If Kobe wins tonight, he will have five rings, one shy of his only real NBA rival, Michael Jordan.
Belal Abdelfattah is BSO’s newest writer and comes from a long background in sports writing at the Sports Authority Blog and The Block Radio. You can follow Belal on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/belal_a