Can Kobe Bryant Ever Earn the Same Level of Respect As Magic and Jerry West?
Even if Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finishes his career as the best Laker of all time statistically, he is fighting an uphill battle to garner the same role in terms of perception.
Bryant is unquestionably in the argument due to his five career championships and the fact that he is the franchise's all-time leading scorer, but can he ever escape the notion that he will always be below Magic Johnson and Jerry West?
Magic and West are arguably the two most loved Lakers of all time, and each player has established a legacy that will likely last forever.
Magic is considered to be the greatest point guard of all time, and he shares with Bryant the title of most championships won with five as a Laker.
West was only able to win one NBA title in his career but he was the franchise's career points leader until Bryant recently passed him, and West's image as the NBA logo will live on forever.
Those are pretty high standards to live up to, and not only is Bryant faced with the dilemma of conquering the legend of those two players, but he must also find a way to defeat his polarizing nature.
Magic and West were loved by not only Lakers' fans, but by most observers who had any real interest in the game of professional basketball.
Magic, along with Larry Bird is credited with renewing interest in the NBA during a time when the league's popularity was at an all-time low, and his charismatic personality was infectious.
West may not have had Magic's personality traits, but he won over the hearts of fans with his competitive nature, and the ability to leave his soul on the floor each and every night.
Bryant doesn't share the same warm qualities as West and Magic. Either you love Bryant or you hate him, and those who choose the latter have no problem chiming in with their opinion on where he stands in Lakers' history.
It's easy to distinguish the non-Laker fans and anti-Kobe contingent because they refuse to rank Bryant among the top three Lakers of all time even though his numbers suggest he belongs there.
Bryant usually ends up behind Magic, West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain in the minds of some, even though he has more championships than all players mentioned besides Magic, and most points scored as a Laker, period.
Among fans of the franchise Bryant is held in a much greater light, but he still usually falls behind Magic and West in the minds of fans who are old enough to have seen each one play.
To some Lakers' fans Bryant will never be able to surpass Magic and West in the annals of Lakers' history, and even though I understand the argument, it's still rooted in fallacy.
Magic is probably the greatest Laker of all time in my opinion, but to often the hall of fame teammates he was surrounded by, fail to get the proper recognition for his achievements.
Magic was a great point guard, but his job was made a lot easier with players like Jabbar, and James Worthy on the receiving end of his passes.
Magic's Showtime era teams are considered to be among the best NBA teams ever assembled, and although Bryant played on some pretty good teams himself, none of them really compare to Magic's.
Those who sing West's praises likewise tend to forget how many times he failed on the game's grandest stage with two teammates who rival the Miami Heat's as the greatest trios in NBA history.
West played four seasons beside Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor,yet the trio failed to win a single NBA championship during their time together.
Of course their time together coincided with Bill Russell's great Boston Celtics' teams, but that fact doesn't excuse their losses in the NBA Finals.
However, West is usually given a pass when it comes to his career accomplishments, and even though his career is defined as much by his numerous failures in the Finals, history only seems to remember his success.
Bryant may never be able to escape the shadows of perception that Magic and West have cast, but reality tells a different and perhaps more logical story.
Bryant equals both players in most statistical categories and surpasses them in others, so it's hard to see how an argument against him as one of the top three players in Lakers' history holds any weight.
And Bryant's still not done.
Bryant could possibly win another two championships and approach Abdul-Jabbar's numbers as the greatest scorer in NBA history, which would solidify one of the most underrated legacies in history.
The argument as to where Bryant belongs in Lakers' history as well as the NBA will likely rage on long after Bryant has retired, but to be honest, only people who fail to grasp the reality of Bryant's accomplishments will continue the debate.
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