Kobe Bryant has earned the right to be opinionated on his views concerning all things NBA, and he exercised that right by announcing that Chris Paul and Derrick Rose are the only players in the league that have his same competitive fire (via CBS.com)
Kobe's statement came after the Lakers loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, but it may be more noteworthy for who was excluded from the list rather than those who made it.
No Dwyane Wade, no Kevin Durant, no Dirk Nowitzki and no LeBron James.
I'm not sure what Kobe's criteria was for crowning Rose and Paul, but he has certainly been in the league long enough to discern what types of heart beats beneath the uniforms of the league's star players.
But in my opinion, Kobe's exclusion of Wade and Dirk is especially curious since both players have led their respective teams to NBA championships and earned Finals' MVP awards in the process.
Wade has not hit as many career game-winning shots as Kobe, but to quote Bryant, Wade is certainly a "dog" when it comes to the will to persevere and win. And just like Kobe, Wade wears his emotions on his sleeve.
You never have to guess where Kobe's head is during a game, because you can tell by the intensity in his eyes and his body language.
The same goes for Wade—who sports the same intense look and has no problem leaving his hustle and heart on the floor for all to see.
Dirk may not be an extrovert like Kobe and Wade when it comes to displaying emotions, but can anyone question his heart, grit and determination during last season's Finals' victory over Wade, James and the Heat?
Dirk was clearly the best player on the floor for that series, and while his face may not have dripped with intensity, it was easy to see the singular focus in his game and concentration on the court.
Durant may not quite have the competitive edge that Kobe speaks of, but he's certainly on the cusp of it.
Durant matured rapidly while leading the United States team to the gold medal at the World Championships two years ago, and his game has continued to mature as well.
The memory of Durant demanding the ball late in a recent game against the Dallas Mavericks and his ensuing cold-blooded three-point shot to win it will remain etched in my mind for quite some time. And judging by the look in Durant's eyes before and after hitting that shot, I would have to say it screamed competitive edge.
James is the one player mentioned above who has every bit of skill and talent needed to be included on such a list, and unfortunately he's also the easiest player to omit.
It seems that no matter how much people want to turn James into one of the game's great competitors, he does just as much to shy away from it.
By now, most people have come to accept that James has some sort of mental issue when it comes to raising the level of his game during a contest's pivotal moments, and until he can clear that mental hurdle, James may be remembered as one of the most talented, but heartless players to ever grace the court.
I think Kobe was dead on about Paul and Rose, and that quality is something that will be priceless if either can lead their teams to the NBA Finals this season.
But I also think there are a few other players who could have possibly made Kobe's list, and there is a chance that one or more of them will prove it during the postseason this year.