June 3, 2010
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The perception of Kobe has changed more times than Kobe scored against Toronto back in 2006.
When he won three titles with Shaq to open the 2000s, he was the next big thing in the NBA.
But when Shaq left and the Lakers struggled, the naysayers said Kobe couldn't win the big one without the Big Fella.
He finally got his big chance two years ago against none other than L.A.'s nemesis, the Boston Celtics. But when Kobe and Co. failed to bring home ring number four, people said that Jordan never would have let his team get beaten so badly when it mattered so much.
Kobe got another crack at the first ring P.S. (post Shaq) last season, and he didn't disappoint.
You can argue either way who was the alpha male on those Shaq—Kobe squads, but it is just that—an argument.
This time around, there was no argument. By winning his first title as the top dog, he proved that he was a true NBA champion.
But deep down, Kobe has a bitter taste in his mouth from that fateful defeat to Boston two seasons ago.
As fate would have it, he will get another shot to wash away that bitterness with some sweet champagne.
Kobe knows, fair or not, that if he is not able to beat the Celtics, then there will be a big asterisk by his name in the annals of NBA history.
While the Magic were certainly a decent opponent, they were not a worthy adversary. And quite frankly, if this season proved anything, they probably wouldn't have stood in Kobe's way last season if Kevin Garnett was healthy.
Therein lies Kobe's problem.
Sports works in mysterious ways.
Nobody questioned Kobe's championship last season because everyone assumed the Celtics were a one—and—done band of old mercenaries. Whether Garnett was healthy or not, they had their chance in the spotlight. It was now Kobe's time to have the limelight.
Of course, that theory was quickly proved to be false when the sleeping giant awoke in TD Garden and manhandled Cleveland and Orlando.
At least Boston did one favor for Kobe. The Celtics quashed the argument of the NBA's best player very quickly. No matter what you say, LeBron can't be included in that discussion until he wins a ring.
Unfortunately, in the process the Celtics are also putting Kobe's legacy on the line.
If Boston wins again, then people will have a valid reason to question Kobe's ring last year. They will say that he won a ring, but he was never able to beat the best team in the league during that time.
Nobody questions Hakeem Olajuwon's greatness. His deft footwork and two rings cement his place in NBA history. But nobody even mentions him when discussing the NBA's truly elite.
His problem was one that Kobe is currently facing: He won his rings when the best team at the time was not at full strength (that tends to happen when your best player is goofing around on the baseball diamond).
Ironically, Olajuwon also staked his claim by beating that team from the Magic Kingdom. Like I said, sports and history work in very mysterious ways.
The difference is that Kobe has a chance to vanquish those demons. And just so you know, I am not comparing the levels of greatness between Kobe and Olajuwon, you know who wins that argument hands down. I am merely laying a similar scenario on the table for you. Fair or not, Kobe's legacy depends on the outcome of that scenario.
Make no mistake, Kobe will always be considered a great NBA player. No one can take that away. He is probably the best player since Jordan left Chicago.
But Kobe doesn't want to be "great" or "probably" anything. He wants to be included in that very prestigious discussion of "the best ever." People will always argue who the best is, but you can't be considered unless you earn your seat at the table.
If he takes home his fifth ring, he is one step closer to putting his name on that guest list. If he doesn't though, history may not feel very comfortable including him.
You may not like it, but that's the way it is. Kobe knows it, and so do you.
The funny thing is Kobe wouldn't have it any other way. The great ones never would.
Luckily for him, his legacy is in good hands: his own.
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