The late ‘90s was an interesting time for the NBA. Michael Jordan was on his way out and, as usual, the media wanted a new face of the NBA world.
Along came a 17-year-old out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, PA who was quickly labeled the next “Air Apparent.” Kobe Bryant was bombarded with Michael Jordan comparisons the moment he stepped onto the basketball court as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
His first two seasons, however, failed to meet those high expectations. As a rookie in the 1996-97 season, Kobe averaged 7.6 points and 15.5 minutes per game and found himself in the starting lineup only six times.
His sophomore season, as the sixth man, his numbers increased but he still remained the backup to Eddie Jones.
The next season, the Lakers traded Jones to the Charlotte Hornets, in turn, giving the starting job to Kobe. The Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals of the playoffs that season.
At the turn of the century, the Lakers took off as the next NBA dynasty since Jordan’s Bulls of the ‘90s. By the time Kobe was 24, he had already racked up three Larry O’Brien trophies to go along with four All-Star appearances and had only been in the league six years.
Since then, Kobe has moved into the elite realm of superstardom and, in my opinion, is now the second best player in NBA history.
Comparing six-year pro LeBron James to 13-year veteran Kobe Bryant is a ridiculous comparison, given Kobe’s more complete resume. Every season Kobe is simply adding more to his already Hall of Fame-worthy career.
By passing Laker legend Jerry West and becoming the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, Kobe solidified his place as the best player ever to don the purple and gold. Kobe now sits three wins away from his fifth NBA championship which would tie him with Magic Johnson and put him one behind Michael Jordan.
If he is able to obtain his fifth championship ring by winning yet another back-to-back title, I, for one, will be more than happy to place Kobe right up there with Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. However, it would take one more ring for me to make him the unanimous favorite for that title.
Along with that, the LeBron talk will have to cease. With five championships under his belt, he would clearly be in a completely different category than LeBron, who has yet to receive even one.
Kobe’s career has been a marvel to watch through the good times of winning championships to the lows of not even getting past the first round. When the 2010 season comes to a close and Kobe Bryant stands at midcourt holding his second consecutive Finals MVP trophy, having just defeated the rival Celtics and in turn all the demons that haunted him since the 2008 Finals, he will stand there not only as a five-time champion.
He will stand there as the greatest Laker of all time and arguably the greatest player ever to step on the NBA hardwood.