There will never be another Michael Jordan, but Kobe Bryant has come about as close as anyone likely ever will to being a clone of His Airness. The NBA titles (five with the Los Angeles Lakers to MJ's six with the Chicago Bulls), the tutelage under Phil Jackson, the points amassed (Kobe's less than 700 points shy of Jordan on the all-time scoring list) and the uncanny comparison videos on YouTube all add up to one superstar meticulously following the blueprint laid out by another on the path to greatness.
But Kobe was hardly the lone MJ imitator to hit the NBA. He was merely the most successful, outlasting and outperforming the likes of Vince Carter, Harold Miner and the now-retired Tracy McGrady, to name a few.
In chasing Jordan's ghost, Bryant established a distinctive legacy for himself. He was, in large part, the bridge between Jordan and LeBron James in terms of dominance from the perimeter. The phases of his career have been dictated not by retirements, but rather by roster turnover. Bryant may never have owned the league to the extent that Jordan once did, but he's been so good for so long that it doesn't really matter.
With his 35th birthday just passed and the end of his NBA career probably right around the corner, the question now becomes: Who will be the next Kobe? Which of today's young guards and wings will become the sort of perennial All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive performer who lights up scoreboards, frustrates opponents and attacks the game with the sort of relentless fury that's made the "Black Mamba" nickname a fitting moniker rather than an ill-fated attempt at self-description?
Or, will Kobe's career stand alone in the annals of NBA history, just as MJ's would've had Bryant not grown into such a spot-on emulation of Air Jordan?
These five brilliant, young ballers will have plenty to say about that.
(Note: Kevin Durant and LeBron aren't on this list because they already inhabit a completely different plane of existence than the one on which Kobe's lived for his entire career. They've already established themselves as individuals. They don't need to be Kobe, they are LeBron and KD.)