It’s no surprise that Kobe Bryant is once again on the cusp of greatness.
Despite a season riddled with injuries, the Black Mamba slithered his way through the ranks of NBA history. Becoming 12th on the league’s all-time scoring list, 1st in Lakers history in points scored all-time (Recently topping Jerry West) and 2nd in most games played as a Laker (behind Kareem).
In this year’s playoffs, he’s shed his skin and evolved into another monster. An array of fallaway jumpers that takes the heart right out of team. His most memorable to date is the 21-foot jumpshot taken over a cloaked defense by Grant Hill in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Sealing the Lakers’ fate into another Finals appearance with a 107-103 lead. His increasingly efficient shooting percentage to go a long uncanny timing for when to go on a hot streak (Remembering the 3 straight 3-pointers in Game 6 of WCF, 2nd quarter). All in what the media initially dubbed as his “decline” coming into the postseason.
Bryant has proven that not only is he the greatest player in the league, but perhaps in Lakers’ history.
Yes, we’re talking about the same team that has acquired the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Jerry “The Logo” West, Wilt Chamberlain, “Big Game” James Worthy and the scoring menace Elgin Baylor. All of whom have their jerseys hoisted in the banners across Staples Center. A place where Bryant’s 24 (and possibly 8) will inevitably make their home.
But there is one stat that is against him..0-1.
That’s his record against the Boston Celtics in the Finals. A record he’s intent on changing starting Thursday, June 3rd.
While the debate of “The Greatest Laker Ever” undoubtedly resolves with agreement of Magic Johnson as the best, if Kobe wins this year’s Finals, defeating the rival Celtics; that debate will be quaking with Bryant’s name as the greatest in the franchise.
When you think about it, Kobe can very well be the greatest player to put on the forum blue and gold. With all of the accolades garnered from this year alone, the verdict has begun to wave in his favor.
But the question is: Does Kobe need to beat Boston for validation as the best Laker ever?
Let’s start with his 09-10 achievements..
In this season alone, despite the numerous counts of injuries (finger, knee, back, ankle..you see where I’m going with this), Kobe has accomplished many milestones & statistics.
- 12th in all-time scoring – 25,790
- 1st in Lakers franchise scoring – 25,790 (previously held by Jerry West – 25,192)
- Youngest to 25,000 at 31 years, 151 days
- Most points in Lakers playoff history – 4,852 (and counting)
- 30 points or more in 10 of the last 11 playoff games
- 33.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 8.3 assists on 52.1 percent shooting (43.2 percent from 3-point) in the Western Conference Finals
Kobe Bryant has playing at the peak of his ability since Game 5 of the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after getting his knee drained.
But even this staggering performance by even Kobe’s standards, still feels a bit hallow.
The current leaders of the pack, Magic and Kareem, have both defeated the Celtics for the coveted NBA Championship in 1985 & 1987. With such memorable moments such as Magic’s homage to the Cap in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals; where Magic made a game-winning hook shot. Or Kareem’s 30 point, 17 rebound, 3 blocked shots, and 8 assist performance to take Game 2, 109-102 in 1985.
Bryant, however, was dismal by his opportunity. After bringing the Lakers to the Finals for the first time since 2004 and getting his first MVP in the 07-08 season, Kobe averaged about 25 points on barely 40 percent shooting. So even in Bryant’s eyes, there’s redemption afoot against these Celtics; who have retained the same core from 2008, much like the Lakers.
This Laker team is much better defensively juxtaposed to the original ’08 team that was “all offense” to some critics. That year was another test for Kobe.
“Well, you know, just looking forward to the challenge of it. Last time we played them, it was a great learning experience for us. You know, it taught us what it takes to be a champion. With the defensive intensity they play with, the tenacity they play with, we learned a great deal in that series.“
— Bryant on facing the Celtics again.
Now here it is again. A retest, if you will, for Kobe and company. There’s more riding this potential championship than Kobe’s legacy, but the Lakers’ as well. The much hated, and much respected Celtics will put them through their most physical battle yet. Because pride is carried in this series. Bragging rights are exuded through fans of the two best franchises in NBA history.
So to put it frank, Bryant may need to beat this Celtic squad for his name to be etched on the top of the Lakers’ historically accomplished slab.
The official winner of the discussion will always be on a “to each his own” basis. Generations of the Magic-Kareem era will have their valid points. But the Kobe era will have a more than heresy statement in the argument if he is successful in this series. Or least they won’t be wrong for thinking it.
But personally, he feels no pressure.