This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Without doubt Kobe Bryant is a sensational basketball player. The debate that continues to have fans and sports experts in furious discussion is whether he is truly one of ‘The Greats’. Most are in agreement that Jordan was the greatest but how far away is Kobe from this status?
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point match is legendary but the 81 points Kobe scored against Toronto in 2006 should also be considered one of the greatest ever performances in basketball. Even though his personal statistics are as good as anyone’s, Kobe still has his detractors. Each game he averages over 25 points, over five rebounds, just under five assists and 1.5 steals. He’s claimed two consecutive NBA scoring titles (2006 and 2007) where he seemed to hit all net every time the ball left his hands. He claimed the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008 and won the Final’s Most Valuable Player in 2009 and 2010. You can also add that he is the all time leading scorer for the Lakers.
All of these personal achievements are impressive but in the US, more than in any other country, the only real stat you are judged on is ‘Titles’. No matter how good you are individually, you won’t get the credit unless your team reaches the pinnacle. After all basketball is like football, it’s a team sport and the team must come first. Kobe already has five titles to his credit: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. What makes his résumé even more incredible is that Kobe was the most influential player in all of these teams.
The first three titles in the early 2000s also featured Shaquille O’Neal (who with Kobe formed a lethal combination) but the experts know that it was Kobe who led the team around the court. The last two titles have all been Kobe’s – no question.
Another chapter was written in the long running Lakers vs Celtics saga this year when the Lakers finally climbed over the line in Game 7. The Celtics had been a hairsbreadth from victory but no one told Kobe who urged his side to move in the right direction late in the game. Champions stand up when the going gets tough and if there was any doubt prior to 2010 then surely Kobe has cemented himself as one the world’s top sportsmen in the last 20 years.
Comparing Kobe with superstar LeBron James is an intriguing prospect. LeBron recently turned his back on the Cleveland Cavaliers choosing instead the money and the prestige on offer from the Miami Heat. Perhaps more importantly, he is chancing his arm with a team that might have more of a shot at a title. Many experts have tipped LeBron to be the man to challenge Jordan as the greatest ever and we have seen patches of brilliance that have left us spellbound, but he is a long way off the heights Kobe has already achieved.
Kobe right now is ‘the man’. Next time you are considering placing a bet either on or against the Lakers, don’t overlook the Kobe factor. Early in his career he had his problems off the court which may be why the accolades he richly deserves are a little muted. He should play out his career with the Lakers, keep pushing his team forward and history will judge this champion by his achievements.