It drove him to take those last shots against Utah in the playoffs as a rookie. He famously air-balled them, but his guts impressed his veteran teammates and foreshadowed his actions to come.
It also drove him to challenge Michael Jordan as a first-time All-Star starter, make his mark on the first Lakers three-peat and resurrect his career/image after his sexual assault scandal.
Kobe said it best last season after he shot extra baskets for an hour after losing to the Miami Heat: He wants what all men want, except he wants it more. That’s why a sixth world championship means everything to him now.
It’s the only goal left on Bryant’s mental checklist. He’ll reach 30,000 points at the end of next season (assuming we have one) or the start of 2012-13. He’s proven himself as an MVP and a champion with and without Shaquille O’Neal. He’s the greatest player to wear a Lakers uniform besides Magic Johnson and one of the most clutch players in recent NBA history.
Six rings is the NBA version of the modern holy grail. Since Bill Russell’s 11 rings will never be matched, this is what most players strive for as championship immortality. It means the same number as Michael Jordan—the man Bryant has been chasing since he entered the league.
As much as Kobe wanted the fifth ring to tie Magic Johnson and pass Shaquille O’Neal, he wants No. 6 to gain entry into an exclusive club that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie Pippen and, most importantly, His Airness.
Will it mean he passes Michael as the greatest player? No, but it’s one less arguing point in their for fans who won’t stop with the comparisons.
Six rings also mean unquestioned status as one of the 10 best players in the game. He’s already there depending who you ask, but another ring would leave no question about his place in history.
Bryant knows his body can’t last too much longer at an elite level. It’s why he’s recruited veterans who have the same urgency to win rings. It’s why he went to Germany this summer for an experimental process to fix his knee.
Entering Season 16, he knows this could be the last chance he has at a ring with skills on par with his peers. Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami will only get better and Dallas isn’t afraid of the Lakers anymore after their sweep last year.
Also, he’s heard the rumors that he is no longer able to carry a team by himself. Bryant’s best playoff scoring games this year ended with losses and his missed game-winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals showed that even his clutchness has limits now.
He has one more incentive to remind people just how good he is before becoming mortal. That’s ultimately why he’s chasing ring No. 6. One final cap on his legacy, one final notch in his career-long pursuit of greatness.