Growing up in the '80s and '90s I, like millions of others around the world, idolized Michael Jordan. He embodied a combination I had never seen before: athleticism, grace, and a fierce desire to be the absolute best.
Jordan, over time, transcended basketball and sport. He is the reason I chose McDonald's over Burger King, Nike over Reebok, and Gatorade over Powerade.
I think of Jordan on a daily basis when, in the morning, I squirt on his cologne before leaving to start my day. And despite popular opinion to the contrary, his cologne does smell quite good.
Jordan is, was, and will forever be my favorite basketball player of all time.
I never thought I would see anyone on the basketball court with the same desire in his eyes and fire in his soul to win the way that Jordan did. But then I watched Game One of the NBA Finals and I saw Kobe Bryant completely dominate the game.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Kobe Bryant will ever be better than Jordan. However, I am saying that Bryant is as close of a player to Jordan playing right now or that we may ever see.
It does make sense for Bryant to remind people of Jordan. He grew up a fan of Jordan and all he ever wanted to do was be exactly like Jordan, only better.
When Bryant does an interview, he sounds like Jordan. He answers all questions asked of him with the same pacing and rhythmic beat that Jordan did.
Bryant walks, runs, dribbles, shoots, and plays defense like Jordan on the court. He gets on his teammates and is a vocal leader in the huddles and locker room just as Jordan was.
Detractors will bring up off-the-court issues to take away from Bryant's image. Yes, Bryant has made mistakes in the past, but who hasn't? If you think Jordan hasn't made some very similar mistakes, then you are just fooling yourself.
While Bryant has put much unneeded pressure on himself, he has never dodged questions from anyone and always stands and faces challenges like a champion.
Yes, Bryant may have orchestrated Shaquille O'Neal's trade out of L.A. Had those two stayed together, Bryant very well might have as many rings as Jordan by now.
However, he knew if that were the case, no one would ever give him the respect he deserved. To be viewed as one of the greatest ever, he needed to rise to the challenge and win a championship without O'Neal.
Should Bryant go on and lead the Lakers to the NBA title over the Magic, even Bryant's biggest critics must stand up and give No. 24 his due.
A title win for Bryant and the Lakers this year is a greater accomplishment than anything that Michael Jordan achieved with the Chicago Bulls. That is not an opinion, that is a fact.
Bryant is single-handedly winning an NBA title. Jordan never had to do that. Sure, Jordan may have had the "Jordanaires," but as a group they were far more talented than what the Lakers have this year.
Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman were far better all-around players than Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum could ever dream of being.
Doubters will say that Jordan played against much better competition than has Bryant. I wouldn't disagree with that thought, but I would counter it by saying that Jordan had better talent to help him as well.
Bryant and the Lakers faced stiff competition in this postseason. The Jazz, Rockets, and Nuggets were the most difficult matchups possible for the Lakers and Bryant in particular.
Each team had the long, athletic talent capable of giving Bryant problems. He has overcome each obstacle with the type of mental toughness only Jordan has shown before.
Bryant asked for and got exactly what he wanted: the chance to prove himself as one of the very best players of all time. He is about to accomplish that goal and sits on the precipice of adding his name alongside the likes of Jordan, Magic, Bird, and Russell.
Once the Lakers beat the Magic and win their title, fans and critics of Bryant need to stand, applaud his work, and give him the respect and admiration that he has earned.