When he entered the NBA as a 17 year old back in 1996 he had plenty of detractors but what has stood out from then to today, 14 seasons on is the gladiator like attitude that seems to embody every step he takes on the basketball court. No other player in the NBA has the cut throat attitude he does, he wins not because he’s the most talented, that would probably be LeBron James, LeBron also trumps Kobe statistically but when it comes to winning, Kobe is right on top because of his sheer will. Every time Kobe Bryant steps on the court you can see the desire writ large on his face to go with that famous icy glare that tells hes in the zone and in most games for an opponent it means you can forget about it, for anyone to have consistently kept up the intensity for so long is something to be marveled at, the single minded pursuit of winning basketball games and trying to be the best player he could be has led him to the NBA stratosphere. In the process he has smashed dozens of records and set new ones for future players, its hard to think of any active basketball player in the world that has been as polarizing a factor as he has and that speaks for the impact hes had on the game and our collective conciousness.
Looking at the one number that counts the most – Brynt has 5 championships, just one shy of the best player to ever play the game, after all winning is what every player that's ever played basketball strives for. From the time he entered the league he has apart from being the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises also had to face the constant attention of being the next Michael Jordan and while that tag has been placed on many before him and since, hes the only one who's actually worthy of the title, he is without a doubt the closest there has been to Michael. Its hard to ignore the similarities, they are both of the same height 6’ 6’’ and have a similar lithe frame, Bryant does things that remind us of Jordan. I would go so far as to say that Bryant has been great for Michael because hes kept Jordan in our collective consciousness as we see him vicariously live through the shadow of Michael and as we draw towards the end of Bryant's career, even his harshest critics are beginning to give Bryant the credit he’s long been due, his records speak for themselves, He has 3 maybe a couple more years of his peak left so he'll definitely keep moving up the records ladder. A 12 time all star, not only is he among the greatest offensive talents to grace the NBA hardwood, he’s also a standout defender having made the All NBA-defensive first team 8 times and 10 times overall, putting that into perspective only Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan have matched that. Hes also the most clutch player of his generation and possibly of all time, his only competition being Michael Jordan.
As we head into the new season, he’s surrounded by possibly the best supporting cast he's ever had and in spite of Miami thrice it would be to no one's shock if the repeat turned into a three peat. For everyone who says Kobe had Shaq for the first three and Gasol now and he couldn't win without them. Jordan had Pippen who is probably one of the most underrated players ever, Scottie Pippen while not quite at the level of LeBron James would still hold his own in comparison, he just happened to be on the team with the game's greatest player and not surprisingly his numbers took a significant hit from what they could actually have been, he still managed to average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while also becoming one of the best defenders of his generation, in the bulls first season without No.23, Pippen was third in MVP voting and if he had had to be the man for a longer period its arguable that he would have posted close to the numbers LeBron ( i do acknowledge that LeBron is a once in a lifetime talent) has been posting while also possibly winning an MVP award, it just goes to show how good MJ was BUT even the GOAT couldn't do it alone, Pippen was the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, this is not even mentioning one of the greatest rebounder's ever in Rodman and Horace Grant who was definitely better than Odom has been. Bird, Kareem and Magic? Have you seen the number of Hall of famers from those Celtics and Laker's teams? Chamberlain for all his individual talents didn't win as much as Kobe did, Russell played on great Celtic teams, its lunacy and uninformed to say Bryant has had it easy, he's just done what everyone before him has done. As for Shaq, in the first three peat Kobe was the reason the triangle worked and while with the Magic Shaq couldn't win with Hardaway and all the talent that he brought to the table, he NEEDED Kobe to win, its baffling how easily that gets overlooked, while i certainly wouldn't go to say that Kobe is better than those mentioned above at least not yet, he certainly belongs in the discussion.
Winning matters and at this point LeBron hasn’t won. I will willingly stick my neck out and say Kobe is better than anyone playing now, he plays with the ghosts of the past as he tries to catch up to them. Should the Lakers win in 2011 and they have a very good chance of that, there can be no doubting that this was indeed Kobe's era, never the less let's not begrudge him the respect he's earned, what we should be doing is reveling in the fact that we were a witness to a player of his ability. Kobe Bean Bryant it has been an absolute pleasure. Happy 32nd!