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Kobe Bryant: From the Best, to Best Closer

Prashant ShuklaContributor IJune 11, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 09:  (L-R) Andrew Bynum #17, Kobe Bryant #24 and Trevor Ariza #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers walk back to the bench in the second quarter against the Orlando Magic in Game Three of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 9, 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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Whenever a great player is mentioned, people like to have a catchphrase or nickname to go with. Most players will carry their nicknames on forever, and there are usually two types of nicknames for each player.

One based on personality (this one usually lasts forever), and one that applies to their game while they are active, which they eventually pass on (think most dominant, best scorer, best rebounder, etc).

For Michael Jordan it is the "Greatest of All Time". He was the best in the game when he was playing, and retained the all-time moniker when he retired, and has since kept it.

For Jerry West it is "Mr. Clutch" or "The Logo", and for Bill Russell it was "Most Dominant" when he was playing, and "Winningest Center of All Time" after he was done.

For Shaquille O'Neal, he was considered the "Most Dominant Player" in his prime, and "The Big Aristotle", one of many self-coined nicknames that will live on with his legacy.

Kobe Bryant, in creating his image and brand, had his people come up with "The Black Mamba" to describe his snake-like killer instinct personality.

Recently the vague title of "Best Closer in the Game" has been bestowed upon the Black Mamba. It seems like this year, in both the regular season and the playoffs, every time Bryant is mentioned, there’s also a plug for how good of a closer he is.

It is reaching a point of absurdity, as almost every article or talking head out there says it like they’re getting paid to do it with every mention of Bryant.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that Bryant is the best closer in the game. I also believe he is the best player right now.

But it’s interesting that it has become basketball fact in such a short span of time. Not one major writer or talking head has disputed this "fact", and it’s very rare that you see an entire community of fans and media agree on something in professional sports.

I haven’t seen one media member question this title. It would probably be impossible to trace the beginnings of the spread of this well-accepted title, but the acceptance stems from the fact that most people want the ball in his hands at the end of a game.

But Bryant has been the best player in the NBA for a few years before this, so how come he only recently became synonymous with this "Best Closer" title?

I have a theory why...

For the past three or so years most people recognized Kobe Bryant as the premier player in the NBA. He didn’t win the MVP award until the last of those years (2008), but poll upon poll in the last few years has shown that coaches, players, and general managers alike would take Kobe Bryant over any other player if starting a team.

Those same polls also indicate that if there was one current player they wanted taking the last shot of a game, it was Mr. Bryant.

With the introduction of LeBron James this year as the new de facto "face" of the NBA, it is harder and harder for people to maintain that Bryant is almost unanimously the best player.

In fact, most would select James for that title.

It used to go without saying that he was the best period, and the best at the end of games (closing). But now, there is a divide between those titles, with most people giving James the" best player" title, and Bryant the "best closer" title.

However, the distinction is not so clear-cut. Many Bryant loyalists and analysts still believe that he is the best player in the NBA. They cite his more refined game as an advantage over James, and his more established career as a backbone that James has yet to earn.

That is why you hear Bryant referred to as the Best Closer by the ABC commentators, ESPN talking heads, sports writers, and radio broadcasters. While the "Best Player" title is in dispute, the media has found another less controversial hyped-up title, which is seemingly important and weighty, to grant Bryant.

The odd thing is, I've never heard of this title existing on its own, it's usually just synonymous with the best player or the most dominant player. The title has been invented for Bryant, who presents a unique case now that James has elevated his game.

The reasoning makes sense. Bryant is too good of a player to not have a title to go everywhere his name does.

All great players before him have had titles to go with every mention of their name. Bryant now has his. It used to be simply the best, but now he’ll have to settle for best closer.

When he retires, he will recede back into the Black Mamba shell, just like all the greats before him who pass on their playing-day titles to the next generation. He has already passed on the "Best Player" title to James in most people's eyes, and in a few years will probably relinquish the "Best Closer" title to somebody else.

But for now, he is Kobe Bryant AKA the Black Mamba. The Best Closer in the World.

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