L.A. Lakers: NBA Titles Can Validate a Legacy, Unless You're Kobe Bryant

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IAugust 7, 2011

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers holds up the Larry O'Brien trophy and the MVP trophy after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There should not be any debate as to whether winning an NBA championship is an individual or team accomplishment, because one player can never achieve that goal alone.

However, success in the NBA Finals can validate a great player's career, and it is often used as a measuring tool when comparing legendary players.

For instance, few people would argue that Boston Celtics' great Bill Russell was a better individual player than former Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain, but in some circles Russell is held in higher esteem for his ability to win multiple NBA championships.

The same can be said for Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who were all great players, but their success in the NBA Finals made them great champions.

All of the players mentioned above would still be legends in their own right even if they never managed to win one ring, but the fact that they did elevates their stature in the annals of league history and in the minds of most fans.

This same axiom holds true for the majority of those who are considered the NBA's all-time greatest players, unless of course your name is Kobe Bryant.

The Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard has compiled a career resume that may be un-rivaled in his generation, yet when it comes time to stamp his legacy with his five NBA championships, the contradictions start.

Bryant's detractors have drawn a clear line in the sand when it comes to the first three championships of his career, and their disdain for any compromise is something today's political Tea Party would take pride in.

No Bryant fan would argue that Shaquille O'Neal was not the driving force in the first three championships of the Phil Jackson era, but Bryant's numerous critics are not exactly honest when it comes down to Bryant's value during those championship runs.

Bryant is often relegated to the role of a side-kick or spectator when the Lakers mini-dynasty of 2000-02 comes up, but Kobe averaged more than 25 points per game in the postseason during those title years.

And the scoring average doesn't tell nearly half the story.

Remember it was Bryant who jump-started the Lakers with his will, energy and athleticism in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, who had a 15 point lead entering the 4th quarter.

Would the Lakers have defeated the San Antonio Spurs the following year if Bryant had never been able to string together what were a few of his most memorable playoff performances of all time?

I will never forget Bryant's 40+ point 16 rebound night against a bigger Spurs team in that series, which was punctuated by a dynamic play in which Bryant emphatically grabbed a missed Laker free throw and dunked the rebound over the out-strteched arms of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

The Lakers may have still beaten Portland in the 2000 postseason and San Antonio in 2001 without Bryant, but his performances in each instance made speculation unnecessary.

Bryant's criticism since Shaq's departure and the Lakers subsequent three NBA Finals and two championships is even more puzzling because people have even gone further out of their way to trivialize his accomplishments.

Bryant was knocked and ridiculed because he couldn't win a ring before Pau Gasol arrived during the 2007-08 season, but did Jordan ever manage to win a ring without NBA top-50 player Scottie Pippen?

Gasol is a great player, but he probably won't be making anyone's top-50 list anytime soon, and even if he does it's beside the point.

How fair is it to mention any player's performance and success in the postseason when judging their all-time status and then change the rules of the game when Bryant's name is brought up?

Bryant has lost in two of his seven NBA Finals appearances, but it's pretty dumb to hold that against him when some players never see the Finals at all, and Bryant has spent nearly half of his career there.

I agree with people who say that Bryant's five championships should not be used to gauge his greatness as a player, but in all honesty his sterling career has already done that.

But on the flip-side, Bryant's detractors must afford him the same level of respect that is granted to all past legendary NBA champions, because whether you love Bryant or hate him, you can't deny his place in NBA history.