Kobe Bryant, Greatest Laker Ever? Or Not Even Close?

Tuviere AkpogheneContributor IFebruary 7, 2010

Kobe Bryant seats alone atop the Lakers scoring plateau, and this has led to a tsunami of chatter on the Internet, near the water coolers, and by the ever-reinventive mass media about his place in Lakers’ history books.

It was a monumental achievement in an organization in which greatness is an expectation and there are more championship rings than fingers. It was a third-quarter fast-break dunk that provided first an exclamation point, then a question.

Does this make Bryant the greatest Laker ever?

This is a very subjective question—and one that’s even tougher to answer with an active player.

In my article Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Is Bryant Better Overall? I wrote: "I believe in comparing athletes on finished products. A good example of finished-product comparison would be Jordan vs. Magic, Hakeem vs. David Robinson, or even Wilt Chamberlin vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Bryant still has a couple of years—maybe four or five—on those legs of his before he calls it a career.

He might never win another championship; he might win three more. Until then, it's going to be hard to tell where exactly his career is going to rank among the Lakers greats.

But for the sake of argument, how does one decide what makes a player greatest of all time of a franchise—or even in the game?

I would think this would be a combination of individual performances, championships, leadership, clutch play, toughness, resiliency, and many other variables.

However, the question is, how much weight do you give to each variable? This is where subjectivity and allegiances take over. And that’s not even factoring in the challenge that comparing across eras presents.

Let’s be sincere here: Bryant is without question the best basketball player in the world today when considering all factors. (If anyone knows of someone better in Europe or anywhere else, please do share.) Say what you want about the physical talent of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, the undeniable ability of Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, and the intensity of Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett : All are great players, but none is as accomplished in all areas as Bryant is this very moment.

Many of you are in love with stats, and the stats in this case are irrefutable: Bryant holds the Lakers records for scoring in a career, single season, and one game. He also leads the Lakers in career three-point field goals made.

Bryant is a 12-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, seven-time All-NBA First Team selection, and seven-time all-NBA Defensive Team selection. He has also won four NBA Championships and been named both Finals MVP and regular season MVP.

Even with all those superhuman stats, if he decided to call it quits today, he will not even be considered the best player in his generation. We’re still having heated conversations on Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Who is better?

And some have even pointed out that the only reason Bryant is overhyped (Yes, Bryant is called overhyped) is because he got lucky and was drafted into one of the most respected franchises in American sports.

So why is there so much hatred for Bryant? Because as beloved as the Lakers are by their fans, they are equally despised by virtually everyone else. And in recent times, Bryant has become the face of the franchise, resulting in a hatred that runs deep for many non-Lakers fans.

What’s there to like about a guy who always seems to bury your favorite team—and does so with the sense of downright ruthlessness that Bryant always seems to?

Is there anyone in the NBA who scares you more with the ball in his hands late in a basketball game than Bryant?

But we all know the hatred toward Bryant is not because of his play on the court alone, but more toward his on-court antics toward referees during games, his years of being known as a bad teammate and a ball hog, allegations of tanking games in the 2004 NBA Finals, and his troubles with Shaq and Phil Jackson—and Jackson's book really didn’t help. And let’s not forget his escapades in the Mile High City.

Even the press, known to hold grudges long enough to last two lifetimes and for years never liked him, found a way to make the grand moment (passing West to become the Lakers all-time point leader) a point of controversy.

“I’m proud of him; I congratulate him,” Pau Gasol said. “Now we can focus on winning games again.”

Gasol was just getting started.

“Obviously, we’re not making a conscious effort on pounding the ball inside,” Gasol said. “So we settled a little bit too much.”

A day later, with Bryant not available for comment, Gasol and Derek Fisher reiterated the idea that sometimes even the greats can try to be too great.

Gasol talked about getting more players involved, and Fisher even invoked exact statistics from the previous night, saying that one player taking 38 percent of the shots is just too much.

“This is a tough one for me, guys,” Fisher said. “But winning is what it comes down to.”

This was an ESPN.com report about the milestone.

This was complete inappropriate coverage of a milestone.

All I can say to Bryant’s Lakers teammates is: You want the rings? You want him to have the energy and attention required to make those last-second shots? Then you put up with all the earlier ones, too.

Bryant may be the only NBA star who is equally loved and hated at the same time by his club’s fans, and, as it might seem, his teammates.

While it seems like he has completely reinvented himself to become the model athlete, he now faces allegations of being a phony.

This is why is going to be difficult for him to scale the Mount Rushmore-like figures of Lakers land (Magic and West). Bryant will never be completely embraced like Magic—or completely revered like West—because what makes him so great is what makes everyone else so unnerved.

His killer instinct can be unsettling. His serious demeanor can be intimidating, which is bad for his opponents and makes him a force to reckon with. But his past will always define him.


Greatest Lakers of all time (A-List Edition)

We all know who the Lakers greats are; Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and more. The question now is, where does Kobe Bryant rank amongst these giants? The A-List team breaks down the careers of the greatest Lakers of all time and ranks them. (Click here for more. )



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