Kobe did it. As unimpressive as it was, as ugly as it looked Kobe Bryant has finally and firmly planted himself as best player of his generation and worthy of all accolades that come his way. His 6-24, 23 point festival of ugly gave him a fifth championship to put him in company that belongs to Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. It also gave Kobe the undisputed championship of being the best of an era that has featured him taking a back seat to the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan.
He has had the flash of LeBron or D-Wade without the hype of Vince Carter, the limitless usage of his physical attributes like Kevin Durant without the ballyhooed respect of Time Duncan plus he’s getting a little long in the tooth at 32 with 13 years of experience, but make no mistake, this has been Kobe’s era.
It’s been rough to say the least; fights with Phil Jackson that led to scathing remarks in Jackson’s book. A feud with Shaquille O’ Neal that was better suited for a rap record, beef with the Lakers front office that almost resulted in a trade, plus there was that whole Denver innocent that we needn’t mention. Yet here we are staring at one of the greatest to ever play the game at his Zenith.
Kobe’s popularity has soared when it looked like at one point he would never recover from rape allegations. He’s gone from a closed mercurial personality to jumping over luxury cars for viral video fun, having his likeness used in hilarious puppet commercials and attempting to cross over into modeling (scratch that last part, that shoot was horrendous). There is a commercial running right now that features Kobe’s growth from high school phenom to NBA champion while being mixed in with the greats from Wilt to Russell to the man that he draws the most comparison and ire to Michael Jordan.
We’ve all hated Kobe before we loved him. we hated his yearning for the big moment when he was just a misguided pup in the late 90’s against Utah, we scowled at his smugness for interviews and his selfishness for bad shots. We spewed venom his was for purposely disappearing in games versus Phoenix and Sacramento earlier in the decade almost like he wanted to prove a point to point without proving anything at all. The worst offense has been the Jordan comparisons, the jacking of his fade-away jumper and fist pump. We hated the way he carried himself on the court with that swagger, we wanted him to fail.
That’s not Kobe’s M.O. however, Kobe and failure don’t mix well because doesn’t allow it to. This series has been a prime example of Kobe’s growth, criticisms and current status as the best of his era.
In game one he was vintage Kobe, abusing defenders controlling the action, getting to the paint whenever he wanted. He showed glimpses of the new unselfish Kobe by dishing to teammates for open looks an encouraging them to take shots. Game 3 the Kobe we all know, chucker, selfish too many bad shots, greedy with the rock, if not for Derek Fisher the Lakers would’ve been down 2-1. Game 5 was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Kobe. When the offense struggled he kicked it into high gear making everything from fade-away threes to layups to circus shots. He scored 23 straight at one point but his offensive out was all the Lakers had as the rest of the team was in lala-land. After the game the other side of Kobe came out. He screamed at his fellow mates pleading them to step it up in a profanity laced tirade that could’ve been heard all the way in China.
Game 7 Kobe however was a Kobe I had never seen before. He was ineffective, couldn’t buy a basket, his J was off, but Kobe did everything else. He made Ray Allen’s life a nightmare and held the hall of fame shooter to a dismal 3-14 shooting, he deferred to a hot Ron Artest to take big shots and pounded the ball down low to Pau Gasol. Kobe was fighting for his life it seemed like he thought to himself that maybe this is it. This might be the last shot I have to get a title. He doesn’t know if Phil Jackson will be back to run the show, or how the team will look down the road or more importantly how much is left in his tank. Bryant has played the most minutes in the NBA over the last 11 seasons, those knees can only last but so long. So here was Kobe scrapping for everything, deferring to his mates, giving Sasha Vujacic encouragement after making two huge free throws late in the game. I think this was the night that maybe Kobe Bryant finally understood himself and what his worth was to his team as a leader. There was that greed to want to finish it himself but he waved it off by scrapping for a career high 15 rebounds going through heavy traffic to get them most of the time. If he couldn’t score he was making an impact everywhere else, no complaints no questions asked.
As he stood at the podium with the rest of the Lakers and his wife and kids in tow, Kobe finally was his own man. Yeah he won last year without Shaq, but he did it this year without the hype of the 800 pound gorilla on his back. He was happier this time around than last year, he almost seemed relaxed. He had passed Jerry West as the Greatest Laker ever and passed Magic Johnson as its best Champion. You could also say that Kobe rightfully belongs in the conversation of being one of the top five players of all time with Jordan, Russell and others.
One thing that needs no debating is this, love him or hate him Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league right now and is the best player of his generation. If anyone should be referred to as King it should be Kobe Bryant and he’s got the rings to prove it. His puppet would tell you so.