Bryant, Fans Get Last Laugh
Have you ever watched Major League Baseball's Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr hit home-runs? If you have, then you know that watching the two superstars go deep is two completely different experiences.
Thomas, a great player in his own right, is a behemoth at the plate daring opposing pitchers to even consider throwing any pitch remotely in range of his Herculean strike zone so that he may smash the stitching off of the ball on it's way to oblivion.
Griffey's swing, on the other hand, is one of pure poetry. So smooth and sublime that just as you begin to appreciate it's majesty, it's over. So quick, so perfect all you can do is go...sweeeeeet.
To Kobe Bryant fans and for that matter anyone who truly understands and appreciates the game of basketball at the professional level, the preceding analogy is a microcosm of the difference in Kobe and Shaq's legacy on the basketball court.
To put it bluntly, Shaquille O Neal cannot shoot free throws, jump shots beyond six feet, take anyone off the dribble and for that matter he has been an average rebounder at best his entire career.
So how in the world have people had the audacity to compare Shaquille O Neal's basketball acumen with that of Kobe Bryant?
To fans of Bryant the Shaq Kobe debate has been the barometer by which we (Kobe fans) were were able to judge whether any person speaking of the two had any real insight into the game or they were strictly a hater.
Ray Allen, this means you.
When Shaq and Kobe parted ways after winning three championships together, Kobe took the blame. When Phil Jackson decided to come out with a "tell all" book about his time in L.A. and why he hastily exited stage left, Kobe took the blame.
When Mitch Kupchak decided to field a team around Bryant that included players like Chucky Atkins, Brian Cook, Smush Parker, Kwame Brown as well as an assortment of other non-descript NBA players that were promptly bounced out of post seasons that they had no business being in the first place, Kobe took the blame.
When he outscored an entire Mavericks team over three quarters and sat down in the fourth to show good sportsmanship, he was chastised for being to selfish to let fans see him go for 70 or 80 points.
When two months later he did go for 81 points, he was belittled for being what? Selfish? A ball hog.
The bottom line was this, Kobe Bryant was guilty of one thing more than any other, wireless cloning. He was the next Jordan.
People despised him for being too much like Mike. He had the moves, the swagger, the post game interviews, even the tongue. This was a kid that not only did his homework, he was the valedictorian of his class and every other class before and since.
So everyone who had grown up learning to shed tears of joy for the times that "His Airness" spent carousing outer space, with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Toons, who had gotten introduced to Mars Blackmon and the beginning of Nike's global takeover, who grown accustomed to watching a player shoot twice as much as everyone else on his team and punch teammates in the face in practice for thinking about talking back to him, Bryant was blasphemy in the flesh.
Forget his obviously superior jumpshot much earlier in his career. Forget the fact that like Jordan, it took another NBA Top 50 player to help him win a title, yet the Kid did it in half the time, and that the second time around he's done it without anyone who will ever sniff the NBA's Top 50 list.
Forget the fact that the kid once scored 81 points on 46 attempts when Jordan could only muster up 64 points on 49 attempts at home against Shaq'a Orlando Magic team in 1983. Forget everything that is true about Bryant's basketball I.Q. talent and relentless drive to to be best ever.
Instead remember how Shaq arrived in Phoenix promising titles and has a first round exit and a DNMPS (Did Not Make Post Season) to his credit playing alongside two-time MVP Steve Nash as well as Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Amare Stoudamire. Remember how Alonzo Mourning was Dwayne Wade's backbone during the Miami Heat's championship run against the 'softer than tissue' Dallas Mavericks, as Shaq put up Tyson Chandler like numbers.
Remember that next season, O 'Neal will be playing for his fifth NBA franchise as he goes around the league searching for great, great players to make him look greater.
Think about this for a moment, Shaq has currently played with two different league MVP's (three if he lands on Cleveland's doorstep, four once D Wade eventually wins one, and two different Finals MVP's. Shaq is the NBA's equivalent to an ambulance chasing injury attorney.
Now that Kobe has his first ring sans Shaq, Kobe fans no longer care what the haters have to say. They said he couldn't win one by himself.
This means you Ray Allen.
He didn't say he could win it by himself, just without Shaq. Mission accomplished.
Last season it took three Hall-Of-Fame players to deny Bryant what his fans knew was inevitable, just like the next one.
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