Why Kobe Bryant Has To Win It Now

Akshay MadhavanContributor IApril 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 9:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waits to be introduced before the start of the game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center April 9, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

To most NBA experts, players and fans, Kobe Bryant is one of the top 20 best players of all time and one of the top five guards the league has ever produced. To some, he is second only to Michael Jordan and to a third, out there, group he is the best of all time.

To get the first group of people to consider agreeing with the second (I leave out the third because nobody seriously believes that is ever possible), Kobe Bryant has to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship this season. And there are no two ways about it.

Kobe has three championships playing second fiddle to a Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. While he contributed far more to those teams than is popularly believed, they will never be thought of solely as Kobe's titles.

He's had two chances since, in the 2003-'04 Finals against the Detroit Pistons and the 2007-'08 Finals against the Celtics, and has come up short both times against superior defenses.

These were two great chances to be the leader on a championship winning team, but Kobe was not able to muster the superhuman effort required to overcome the odds he faced; the kind of effort Dwyane Wade mustered to lead the Miami Heat over a more favored Dallas Mavericks squad in 2006.

Kobe fans have no real explanation as to why Kobe couldn't carry his team through those two Finals. Both matchups were winnable, and should certainly have not been one sided at all.

Those were two rings Kobe could have done with and he would have had five by now and with one this year, he would have matched Jordan's tally of six. As we have it though, he's still looking for that elusive title, and this year presents him with a golden opportunity.

With the announcement that Kevin Garnett will be out for the playoffs, the Lakers are now faced with only the Cleveland Cavaliers as a team that can be considered championship contenders. And if Kobe loses the finals to LeBron, while having a far superior supporting cast, he should just pack up and retire.

Kobe Bryant is out of excuses and he's simply got to deliver this time to be considered in the same league as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and all the others. This has got to be  a late career second coming. It started last year, but he fell short. I don't believe he's running out of time. But if he loses this year, there are simply no excuses left to make.

Even if he is triple teamed and his teammates shoot at 30 percent for the playoffs, Kobe Bryant has to win that championship. It's the only thing that will make believers of the doubters. That Kobe Bryant is one of the best to ever play the game of basketball.