Make no mistake about it, Kobe Bryant won four championships last season.
Some may note that the championship rings of 2000-2002 were in Bryant’s display case years ago, but the sad truth is the rest of the world has taken this long to catch up.
Until the Lakers’ clinched their 2009 NBA Championship, almost everyone had forgotten the reasoning behind the success of the three-peat Lakers earlier this decade: with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers had the two best players in basketball and the quality of the veteran role-players around them augmented them all the more, simply making them unfair to play against.
The Lakers were by no means a team comprised of just Shaq.
But that was all forgotten. Instead, many analysts, and random haters with nothing better to do with their time, tried to paint 2000-2002 Bryant as a modern day Mo Williams, attempting to deny him credit for his contributions to the Lakers’ success.
That’s all over now.
That tiresome, moronic old adage “Kobe can’t win without Shaq,” something Bryant himself equated to Chinese water torture, has finally been laid to rest.
There are some that question Kobe’s hunger, wondering what more he has left to prove.
Many saw the 39-point blowout loss against Boston in game six of the 2008 NBA Finals as the Lakers' motivation for the 2009 season, and they’re right.
Still, there’s something about having a rival run up the score against you in a Finals elimination game and enduring their fans rocking, ridiculing and throwing objects at the team’s bus that I don’t think you forget a season later, especially if you’re Kobe Bryant.
Far away as they may seem now, there were also those hideous Phoenix playoff series from 2006 and 2007 during a time where Kobe just didn’t have the talent around him to take the Lakers beyond the playoffs’ first round.
I am absolutely positive that these aforementioned failures will continue to provide Bryant with motivation for the rest of his career.
How am I so sure?
There’s nothing like being at the bottom when you know what it feels like to be at the top.
If and when you get the opportunity to be back on top, you may falter some days, you may be discouraged some nights, but you know better than to let that opportunity slip through your fingers.
All this is made all the more true if you have Kobe's competitiveness.
And it's not as if the low points of Kobe’s career are all he has to motivate himself with.
Everyone can admit that Kobe is among the two best players in the league, possibly behind a certain No. 23.
Just about everyone can admit that he’s the second-greatest shooting guard of all time behind the original No. 23.
But somehow, I just don’t think that’s enough for Kobe.
He’s still got plenty to prove, even if its just to himself. Michael Jordan had that same type of mental tenacity. While he doesn’t have the haughtiness to refer to himself as the greatest of all time now, Jordan could never settle for being second-best to anyone during his career.
Kobe’s no different.
Despite all of his ambition, though, Kobe is no fool. He knows that he’ll be soon approaching the downward arc of his career. He also knows that team around him now represents his greatest, and last, opportunity to add to his championship resume.
He knows what it's like to open the season on a team that has all the expectations in the world. He also knows what its like for that team to fail. (See 2004.)
When Kobe allowed, not forced, the departure of Shaq after that season, he was alleviating himself of a big headache, but I don’t think he really appreciated just how long it takes to rebuild a championship-level team.
He does now.
When a team with anywhere near the Lakers' level of talent is assembled, the only goal can be winning the championship and doing so multiple times.
Failing to win puts the team’s future together in jeopardy. Bryant no longer has enough years left in his career for another Laker retooling. That’s why I’m calling it right now.
The Lakers are going to win the 2010 NBA Championship.
It's not just that the Lakers’ level of talent is so overwhelming. It's that Kobe won’t allow the Lakers to do anything less.
Kobe has more than a few things left to prove in his own mind. And, believe it or not, he still has his share of doubters.
Kobe’s going to put even more of these doubts to rest at the end of the year by winning his fifth championship in "two" seasons.