As much as I hate to admit it, Kobe Bryant has cemented himself among the greatest players in the history of the NBA.
Dare I say, the Los Angeles Lakers guard has made himself into an equal of the most legendary of NBA legends – Michael Jordan.
Kobe fans will argue that Bryant was already as good, or better, than Jordan, even before he won his fifth NBA championship with a 4-3 series victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
Jordan purists might argue that even with this fifth title, Bryant is still not on MJ’s level, if only because he still needs one more title to match Jordan’s collection.
Both points of view are fair, but I say say Bryant has, at least, proven himself to be Jordan’s equal.
This is a tough thing for me to acknowledge. I grew up rooting for the Portland Trail Blazers, which meant, among other things, I grew up rooting against the Lakers. I found Bryant’s brash demeanor difficult to digest from the beginning, before he’d ever played a minute in the NBA. The Charlotte Hornets selected Bryant No. 13 overall, but in true diva fashion, Kobe had his agent tell the Hornets that he’d never play for them, more or less forcing the team to trade him to Los Angeles.
He was 17 at the time, not even old enough to validate his NBA contract without a co-signature from his parents, yet he was already asserting himself as NBA royalty.
Had he instead demanded the trade to Portland, well, my attitude might have been different. But then came the summer of 2003, when Bryant was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old employee of The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Eagle, Colorado. The assault case was eventually dropped, and the two sides settled out of court on a separate civil lawsuit, but the damage to Bryant’s image had already been done, and for most of us, settlement on the civil suit was, at least, acknowledgment that the married Bryant had, apparently, done something wrong.
So you see, it’s just been difficult for me to get behind this guy.
But there’s no denying his talent, nor his accomplishments.
Bryant and the Lakers secured their second consecutive NBA title with the 2010 series win over the Celtics, giving Bryant back-to-back NBA Finals MVP awards. He won his first three NBA crowns in succession, as well, as the Lakers claimed titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He took home the NBA MVP trophy in 2008, has been named to the Western Conference All-Star team 12 times, including 10 in a row, was league scoring champion in 2006 and 2007 and has been named to the NBA first team and the NBA all-defensive first team eight times each.
That last accomplishment is what helps set Bryant alongside Jordan, because it displays the often-overlooked defensive talents of both players – Jordan was named to the NBA all-defensive first team nine times. We’re talking about two of the most prolific scorers in NBA history who, during their time in the league, just happen to have been among the best at their position defensively, as well.
Jordan’s accolades, of course, are still a bit out in front of Bryant, but I have no doubt that Kobe will put up a good chase to reach and, perhaps, surpass them.
Jordan won six NBA titles, and was NBA Finals MVP for each of those six rings. He also was named NBA MVP five times, made the All-Star team 14 times and made the all-NBA first team 10 times.
Unlike Jordan, Bryant never won the Rookie of the Year award – that honor went to Allen Iverson after the 1996-97 season. Jordan has two Olympic gold medals; Bryant has one.
So there are still statistical differences between the two star shooting guards, sure, but after Bryant’s latest NBA title and NBA Finals MVP award, the statistical margin is smaller than ever.
And even though I don’t like to admit it, Kobe’s not done yet, either.
Kobe Bryant Bio Page, NBA.com
Michael Jordan Bio Page, NBA.com
NBA Rookie of the Year, Inside Hoops