Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has certainly earned a place among the top five players in franchise history, but he may never ascend to the top spot and it has nothing at all to do with his performances on the court.
Most observers consider Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be the top players in Lakers franchise history, and based on what Bryant has accomplished in his career, it would be ridiculous to exclude him from their company.
Bryant is already the most prolific scorer in franchise history; his five NBA championships equals Magic's; and Bryant has accumulated just as many individual accolades as his Lakers elders.
When faced with these facts, some Lakers fans reluctantly agree that Bryant probably has surpassed West on the all-time franchise list, especially when you consider The Logo only managed to win one championship in his career.
With Kareem, the debate is more fierce because he is the NBA's all-time scoring leader, and many people view him as one of the front-runners for the league's all-time greatest player.
Kareem very well may be right there with Michael Jordan in the NBA's G.O.A.T. conversation, but it's hard to compare a player who spent some of his time elsewhere with one who has spent his entire career in purple and gold.
Don't get me wrong, I love what Kareem meant to the Lakers Showtime era in the 80's, but I also know Kareem's NBA legend began in Wisconsin, and the people of Milwaukee have a legitimate claim to a share of his legacy.
The same can't be said of Bryant, West and Magic, whose legacies are for Lakers fans alone.
So, it's reasonable to say that Bryant has surpassed West on the strength of career accomplishments, and most fans will someday give him an edge over Kareem because he spent his entire career in Los Angeles.
But it will be much harder to convince some Lake Show fans that Bryant has eclipsed Magic on the Lakers all-time list, and that may be true even if Bryant eventually breaks their NBA championship stalemate.
Some Bryant fans long for that sixth championship because they feel it will finally elevate him into the same stratosphere as Jordan, but a sixth ring would also mean that Bryant stands alone atop the Lakers franchise for most championships won.
In my opinion, if Bryant is the franchise's all-time leading scorer and he has won more championships than anyone else who has ever worn the Lakers uniform, then the answer as to who is the franchise's greatest player is obvious.
But for Magic fans the rings are only a singular part of what he meant to the Lakers, and regardless of what Kobe ever does on the court there is no way he can measure up to what Magic has meant to the game.
Some people wrongly assume that Jordan saved the game of basketball, but in truth the only thing His Airness really did was change how basketball was marketed.
If a person was looking for why NBA basketball was at the height of popularity before the current work stoppage, look no further than when a rookie named Magic entered the league in 1980.
It would be unfair not to include Larry Bird in the NBA's revival, because in all honesty he was just as instrumental as Magic in the NBA's 80's revival. But with all due respect to Bird, Magic was a player who no one had seen before.
A true point guard in a 6'9 frame with the size to see over any defense, and the vision to see through it.
Magic is the reason that I started watching NBA basketball in the first place, and I was mesmerized by a player who was as big as most of the players on the court, but was able to orchestrate the Lakers offense with the precision of a symphony conductor.
And once you add in Magic's charisma, his electric personality and his million-dollar smile, it's kind of easy to see why Bryant may be forever fighting an uphill battle in the race for Lakers supremacy.
People loved Magic, because unlike Bryant he was easy to relate to, and he came from a rough upbringing that most people of black origin can recognize.
Bryant garnered the reputation as a pampered athlete before he played an NBA minute, and his ability to force a trade to Los Angeles certainly didn't help his perception in the public.
Magic was always ready and willing to greet the cameras regardless of the situation, while Bryant sometimes seemed indifferent and stand-offish.
Magic never seemed to come off as arrogant or rude, and he never once demanded to be traded because his team was losing.
Of course, Magic's roster never had any players quite like Kwame Brown or Smush Parker, either.
Bryant's smile may never be as captivating as Magic's, but his game is.
Bryant has his faults on the court and off it but so does Magic, and when you compare the two it's really not all that different.
Magic was a great offensive player, but he may have been one of the worst individual defenders of all time at the point guard position, and in turn Bryant will retire as one of the best defenders at his own position.
Magic could definitely fill a basket up, but he was never really much of a perimeter scorer, while Bryant has perfected the craft of the mid-range game.
None of this means that Bryant should be handed the title of history's greatest Laker, but none of it can be dismissed, either.
For the record, Magic will always be the favorite in the hearts of many Lakers fans, including my own, but being the fans' favorite doesn't always make you the best.
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