If Kobe Bryant decided to retire before Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals, he would go down as one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time, and one of the most spectacular talents the game of basketball has ever seen.
Bryant is the leading scorer in Lakers' history and has won four NBA championship rings, eight first-team all-NBA defensive awards, one league MVP, and one Finals MVP.
By any measure, Bryant has secured his place in NBA history. But if he can bring his team back from the brink of elimination, a whole new chapter will be added to his legend.
Los Angeles trails the Boston Celtics 3-2 heading into Tuesday night's Game Six match-up. It is the first time the Lakers have found themselves behind in a series this postseason.
It's not Kobe's fault.
Although some will decry the number of shots he took in Sunday's Game Five loss, could you imagine what the final score may have been if not for Bryant's 19-point third quarter?
Bryant scored 23 straight points for Los Angeles at one point. And they needed every one because, curiously, no other Laker decided the game was important enough to offer Kobe any assistance.
Bryant's superstar teammate, Pau Gasol, has been absent from the past two contests, while Lamar Odom has been mostly absent for the duration of the series.
Ron Artest has steadily lost confidence in his offense as each game has progressed, and the pain from Andrew Bynum's partially-torn meniscus has limited the big man's effectiveness.
Out of all the above-mentioned names, only Bynum gets a pass, because his struggle to play through his injury has shown a dimension of toughness which was previously missing from his resume.
The Lakers seem to have an edge, considering the next two games are in Los Angeles, provided the Lakers can win Game Six. But so far, they haven't demonstrated they are capable of beating Boston in consecutive games.
Defense has been the Lakers' saving grace in the Finals, but even that aspect deserted them in Game Five. The Celtics shot a series-high 56 percent from the field, and Paul Pierce had his best game thus far, contributing 27 points.
Los Angeles is in desperation mode and their only salvation may be found in the words of Celtics' coach Doc Rivers.
"We feel Kobe Bryant is the only player that can beat us," Rivers said.
Unfortunately, the Lakers' only hope of repeating their championship feat of 2009 may lie in Rivers' words.
But honestly, what else should you expect from a player who has proven his worth in the course of 14 seasons?
Phil Jackson-coached teams have never lost a postseason series after winning the first game. But conversely, the Celtics have never lost a series when leading 3-2.
Something has to give.
Bryant understands a defeat in Game Six would be an admission that the Celtics are the better team, even if he is the best player in the series.
Gasol has shown what type of player he is capable of being, but his recent performances have been more Lamar Odom than Tim Duncan.
Speaking of Odom, maybe it's time people just came to terms with the fact Odom is never going to be much more than the player he is.
Odom's talent is immense, but he either lacks the heart, desire, or will to become the player everyone envisioned.
So instead of wishing upon an inconsistent star, Lakers' fans should be happy with what Odom occasionally gives.
Besides, it really doesn't matter anyway.
Odom, Gasol, Artest, or Derek Fisher have proven they are not capable of dictating the course of this series.
If the fate of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals were placed in the hands of any of those players, the Celtics should start their victory celebration now.
But the Lakers have one ace-in-the-hole that no other team in the NBA is able to match.
Bryant's talent at least gives L.A. a chance in what could be their final game of the 2010 season.
And if fate smiles on his performance, then Kobe could increase his legend.