Kobe Bryant had the ghost of Shaquille O'Neal follow him until June 2009, in Orlando. Incidentally, the same place where Shaq started his career. With Shaq's fourth ring looming over his head, Kobe responded with clinching his fourth ring with a Laker team that was lead by himself.
Besides the Ghost of Shaq, Kobe has the never ending comparisons to Michael Jordan. I have always thought it was a compliment, considering Harold Miner didn't quite cover the tab with the Miami Heat. Bryant's unique ability to pick up on the Jordan court mannerism is astounding. But what is even more bizarre is his ability to even talk like Jordan during interviews...Maybe it's just me...
But what really dawned on the basketball world is this; Kobe won a title on his own. Pau Gasol was the second best player on the team. No disrespect to Pau, but he isn't Dwyane Wade (who lead the Heat and Shaq to a title), and he sure isn't Scottie Pippen, whom at one point seemed to be the second best all around basketball player besides his own teammate, Michael Jordan.
The Los Angeles Lakers consisted of Lamar Odom who is an enigmatic player with all the ability, but lack of being able to keep it up. Andrew Bynum is still a work in progress. Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, and Sasha Vujacic are not quite the best at anything they do. Trevor Ariza is also a young player who has a lot of improving to do.
These names were drawn not to take away from their contributions to the championship, but to compare to the extraction of the six title teams Michael Jordan had to work with. It goes beyond saying that the fourth title Shaq won was not as impressive as Kobe's.
With the first three titles Michael Jordan won, He had Scottie Pippen (for all six) who was an All-NBA player as well as defensively. Michael and Scottie were probably the best combo of defenders the league had on one team. He had Craig Hodges (yes I said it), who was by far the best three point shooter in the league.
He also had Horace Grant who was the glue, and proved that when Michael tried to make his first comeback. The Bulls were eliminated by an Orlando team that Horace played for.
John Paxson and B.J Armstrong were excellent shooters as well. Michael was surrounded by marksmen. When the Bulls went for their second three peat, Toni Kukoc was already imported. He was the best player from Europe at that time. Pau is the second best player from Europe behind Dirk Nowitzki today.
Grant's void enabled the Bulls to gain Dennis Rodman. One of the greatest defenders and rebounders of all-time. Steve Kerr was the marksmen of all marksmen percentage wise. Ron Harper was also a player who was a 20 point scorer for the Clippers before he joined the Bulls.
Sorry, I forgot to mention Luc Longley, who was one the greatest Australian players ever. But most importantly, Kobe has Michael's coach, Phil Jackson. Phil wouldn't be sticking around if didn't think Bryant was not of Jordan's stature.
Nothing takes away from the greatness of Jordan, but all the flack that Kobe has caught over the years should have subsided with this championship. Now at 31 years of age, he probably has four to five more great years left. Even at 35 or 36 Kobe will still be able to play until he is 40 years old and be good.
He has a legitimate chance to get the six rings by his 35th birthday, and he probably can be the second or third best player on a team after that for a seventh title, pending on where the chips fall after the Free Agent Class of 2010.
Kobe Bryant's career may just turn up after the signing of Ron Artest, who if he stays on his best behavior, can be the Pippen to Kobe's...Jordan.
The Lakers are returning the same championship team, minus Ariza. But adding a 20 point scorer, who happens to be one of the best defenders in the NBA. Making Kobe's workload as a defender drop, and rising his offensive prowess.
Scary thought, isn't it?
I knew you'd agree.