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Kobe Bryant celebrates winning the 2009 NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan, but he has done one thing that Michael Jordan never did.
He changed his on-court role.
From day one of his Chicago Bulls career, Michael Jordan was "the man." He wasn't really given a choice seeing as how the Bulls were a terrible team that desperately needed someone to assume control on the court and begin the process of turning the franchise around.
Jordan did that and then some.
Bryant was different.
Kobe Bryant arrived in the NBA at the age of just 18. He and Shaquille O'Neal both became Lakers in advance of the 1996-1997 season. Shaq was already a dominant force in the NBA. Kobe was a young man with limitless potential but lots of learning to do both on and off the court.
To Kobe's credit, he did it.
It wasn't always the smoothest ride, but growing up almost never is. Kobe was the No. 2 player on the Laker teams that won NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Shaq was the go-to, the primary option on offense. The offense ran through Shaq, and Kobe was the guy who was the No. 1 complement to Shaq's dominance.
It wasn't always harmonious, though, and eventually the egos of both Shaq and Kobe became too large to exist on one court.
The Lakers knew that with Bryant's youth if they had to make a choice between the two players, Kobe was the smart choice. So at the age of 26, Kobe went from being the second option on a great team to " the man."
Initially, he struggled. Kobe had to figure out how to balance his talent and superior basketball ability while still allowing his teammates to flourish. The Lakers and Kobe went through some growing pains. The team missed the playoffs in 2004-2005. They suffered playoff exits the next two seasons before finally reaching the NBA finals in June of 2008.
The 2008 finals were a tough loss for the Los Angeles Lakers who would lose in six games to their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics, and the team, Kobe included, had an embarrassing Game 6 performance in which they were blown out on the road.
Kobe soldiered on, though. He continued to improve his all-around game and his on-court leadership. He didn't wilt following the loss to Boston. He returned stronger and with a greater intensity the next season. The Lakers won the 2009 NBA Finals and then came back the next season to beat the Celtics in seven games.
Back-to-back NBA titles and Kobe was the MVP of both NBA finals. Bryant has won one league MVP award as well. Most impressively though, has been the transformation of Kobe.
Has any NBA superstar ever made such a transition? Pippen was never able to assume the role of a "No. 1" on a team following the breakup of the Bulls, and in the two seasons in which Jordan was absent during the '90s, the Bulls failed to make the finals both years.
NBA fans that are old enough to remember when Kobe arrived in the league may love or hate him, but one thing they can't deny is that he's truly developed as a player.
Kobe has been the young guy that needed to learn how to play in the league; he's been the second option on a dynasty behind one of the league's dominant big men. He's been the primary option while that same franchise rebuilt its team, and then he's been the primary option on a team that advanced to three consecutive NBA finals in which they won two of them.
Through it all of course, Kobe produced. He's now the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain are ahead of him.
Over the next three seasons, Kobe could pass both Wilt and Jordan on the all-time scoring list. He could also end up matching or even exceeding Jordan's six titles.
That wouldn't automatically make him better than Jordan, but a few things are certain. Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA, and he's definitely the best player since the era of Michael Jordan's dominance came to an end.