There is only one person in the world of basketball that can be used as a comparison to Kobe Bryant's focus right now. Michael Jordan possessed a focus and work ethic unrivaled by anybody in recent memory of the NBA. But, the two have been unfairly compared many times since Jordan's retirement.
It's not that Kobe should not appreciate the honor of being compared to Jordan, but Kobe is now playing for his fifth NBA Championship. He is creating a legacy that legitimately stands by itself. No comparison is needed. On the day that he retires, Kobe Bryant will be remembered as one of the greatest players to wear an NBA uniform.
It is his mindset, like Jordan, that seems to have elevated his game to the level he has achieved. It is his will to win that forces him to accept nothing less than a championship season.
In ABC's half-time show of Game 1, Kobe sat down and watched footage of former NBA great's and discussed how he had taken the moves of these players. He learned how to use his quickness from Jerry West. The way his body moves in the air is a recreation of what Elgin Baylor did decades ago. He imagine's his move long before the time to make it, as he saw Magic Johnson do.
What he did not discuss was his drive. There is nothing more comparable to Jordan than this feature of Kobe Bryant. Who knows what Chris Rock was saying next to him on the bench. It didn't matter, Kobe didn't hear a word of it. This is the NBA Finals, there is nothing on his mind other than putting that fifth ring around his finger.
Kobe has been a superstar for years now. His career has been celebrated, but also despised. He has not enjoyed the same level of adoration as Jordan. It could be because of the incident in Eagle, Colo. Maybe it is the way he sometimes comes off as self centered or ego driven. Maybe it is a misunderstanding between the fans and Kobe.
The stone cold glare he has on his face is intimidating. The movie Silence of the Lambs is brought to mind when you see him extend his lower jaw in a scowl. It is in complete opposition to the friendly, joking demeanor of LeBron James. LeBron is a king who's kingdom is the NBA. Kobe is a black mamba, ready to strike.
Most likely Kobe does not give a bleep about how the fans view him. Just as he does not give "a bleep" about where LeBron James goes next season. As a matter of fact, there is very little that Kobe seems to give a bleep about these days. It is just his state of mind. He is focused.
It is something that LeBron may learn with time. If he had the kind of intensity that Kobe does, he may be the one going against him this year in the Finals. He might not have choked so early in the playoffs.
It takes maturity to focus on the task at hand the way Kobe does. A maturity that stems from a life of lessons learned in the eye of the public. It evolved as he struggled at times through his rookie season. It evolved through his beef with Shaq. It evolved when he was accused of rape and was forced to save his marriage. There is no other way to acquire maturity, other than facing your problems and rising to overcome them.
Kobe has learned from every event that makes up his past. That is what you see in his face as he stares so intensely into the distance, at a target nobody else can see. His road has carried him to a height of success others can only dream of, but now he is on the edge of greatness. The measurement of greatness is clear and if he accomplishes his goal this year, the sixth championship will be just within reach.
I have a feeling that even then Kobe would not be satisfied. In the end it will be his legacy, but it is not over yet. None of us know what Kobe see's in the distance, but we know that right now he is focused on his fifth championship, he does not give "a bleep" about where LeBron goes.