In his 16 years in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Kobe Bean Bryant has won five championships and just one MVP award. Since Bryant entered the league 16 years ago, the recipient of the MVP award has gone on to win the championship on only three occasions (Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan). Even Kobe himself fell short in the Finals against the Boston Celtics when he earned the award in 2008.
When I was younger, Kobe’s lack of MVP awards bothered me as I thought it would blemish his otherwise perfect resume. I now realize the award means as little as All-Star game appearances: the former is voted on by media members and the latter is a popularity contest voted on by fans.
I’m not the only one that feels the league’s scoring leader doesn’t get the credit he deserves from the selection panel. Mike Brown, the head coach of the Lakers, came out and said publicly that Kobe deserves to be in the top three when it comes to this season’s MVP candidates right alongside Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Looking at Kobe’s season so far, it’s hard to argue with Brown’s assessment.
Kobe has meant more to the Lakers than any other player has meant to his respective team besides Kevin Love, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. Love and Williams’ value outweighs Bryant’s because of their supporting cast, or lack thereof. And as much as Howard means to the Magic on the court, it appears that his attitude off it is hurting the team more than his play is helping it at the moment.
Without LeBron James, the Heat would still be a middle of the pack Eastern Conference team. Without Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder would still be fine as this league is currently run by point guards and they have one of the best of them in Russell Westbrook.
Before the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline, Kobe Bryant was the only player on the Los Angeles Lakers who could create his own shot off the dribble. Without Kobe Bryant, you’d be looking at a team that is relying on a core of Sessions, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to contend. Just think about that for a second.
What use are two big men without a guard who can create for them? Hakeem Olajuwon needed Kenny Smith in the same way that Tim Duncan needs Tony Parker and the duo of Bynum and Gasol need Bryant.
Before the season nearly everyone wrote the Lakers off, they thought there would be no way the Lakers would remain an elite team with only three players surrounded by a group of has-beens and castaway veterans. But due to Kobe’s unmatched desire to win and his ability to finish games as of late, the Lakers are set to finish third in a heavily contested Western Conference with about a dozen games left to go in the season.
Bryant has been so good for so long that us fans and media members who vote for the award are overlooking his accomplishments. And for that reason, he probably won’t win MVP again.
We tend to forget that Kobe has been a prominent for over a decade. Take this in: Bryant completed his first three-peat before LeBron James and Kevin Durant had even entered the league.
Typically, the MVP award has been given to the best player on the team with the best record (see: Dirk Nowitzki in 2007 and Derrick Rose last year) and/or a player who has a defining season in his career that he likely won’t ever replicate (see: Steve Nash in 2005 and Allen Iverson in 2001).
Unfortunately there’s no award that signifies a career of consistent excellence. Since entering the league Bryant has attempted to emulate Michael Jordan’s career as much as he hates to admit it; thus his performance has always been compared to Jordan’s, creating an unreachable standard for Kobe to match.
Kobe finally won his first MVP award in 2008 when the media framed his ethos as the lone wolf who finally embraced his teammates in the post-Shaq era.
Since then, the talent around him has diminished, and Kobe has reverted back to his gunner ways, and as a result the media and the critics are once again pin-pointing Kobe’s hero-ball as the reason the Lakers lose in close games.
Bryant cynics are lauding for him to pass the torch to Andrew Bynum.
However the truth is Kobe and Andrew Bynum share the same dynamic as Kobe and Shaq years ago. This time around Kobe is in Shaq’s shoes as the dominant veteran who doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a younger star.
The reality is LeBron James is likely to wrap up his third MVP award at the conclusion of the season. But if history is the teacher of all things, then it tells us that the regular season MVP normally doesn’t go on to win the championship when it counts.
And that’s music to Kobe’s ears. No matter how badly he wants to reach and eclipse Jordan’s five MVP awards, we all know he’s solely focused on matching Jordan’s ring count first.