The NBA season has ended.
For Kobe Bryant, it is a chance to let his NBA career stands on its own. Throughout his career, his name has been synonymous with winning, but it has had its loop holes. Before last night he had four championships in 14 years, but three of them were with Shaquille O’Neal as the unquestioned leader.
After O’Neal was traded to Miami in the summer of 2004, Kobe Bryant took the reigns as the “man”, but had his struggles. He missed the playoffs in 2005 and got knocked out of in the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007 by the Phoenix Suns.
In 2006, Bryant and the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the series, but lost in seven games, including a 31-point loss in Game Seven where Bryant’s performance was “questionable” considering he was building a reputation as the best closer in the game.
During this stretch, Bryant had the offensive freedom to take all of the shots, command the offense & in turn feel what Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett (at the time) and countless other superstars who were all alone on the quest for a championship felt for the majority of their careers.
On the Court from 2005-2007, he averaged 31.7 points on 44 percent shooting, but his team record was abysmal compared to his previous standards of 50 wins plus. Through those three seasons, L.A. averaged just over 40 wins a season (34, 45, and 42 respectively.) This a far cry from an average of 57 wins in seven full seasons (31 wins in the 50 game season of 1999)
From his actions off the court, one could say it was not for him. After blasting his front office for not trading youngster Andrew Bynum for Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and demanding a trade in the summer of 2007 he had to reassess his career.
Carrying a team by himself was a struggle for him. With a weak supporting cast, Bryant was at his best, but making his teammates better was not his strong suit making those who follow the game say be careful what you wish for.
In 2008, things came full circle for Bryant and the Lakers. Lakers were positioning themselves as a top tier team in the west, and the addition of Pau Gasol was seemed to put them over the top.
The 2008 finals saw a different ending. The Celtics were clearly the tougher team, and the Lakers blowing a 24 point lead at home in game four was not a good pill to swallow. In Game Six, the Lakers lost by 39 point on Boston’s home floor, adding to the argument that Bryant could not win a championship without O’Neal.
In 2009, Bryant laid to rest all of those assertions. In a season that saw The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA, the Lakers knew that they had bigger plans.
Beating the Orlando Magic in 2009 was something Bryant needed personally and professionally. The finals victory gave him four championships and for him personally silenced many doubters, but there was more to be done.
In 2010, the victory against the Celtics avenged the deplorable loss in 2008, gives him five championships and places him in select company with Lakers greats: Magic and Kareem.
His shooting performance in Game Seven was far from spectacular and he did not dominate, but in the end, he led.
He was the leader in back to back championships.
Some may say that the first three championships hamper his overall legacy because Shaquille O’Neal or his leadership skills are overrated considering without a strong supporting cast.
They may be right; Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league. Derek Fisher has continuously hit clutch shots during his career and Andrew Bynum was there to anchor the middle once again but the one thing Kobe Bryant can say is that his career is starting t stand on its own. He is rebuilding the dynasty that he once had a hand in destroying and when it is all set and done the game will remember all phases.
How it ends remains to be seen. Now that he has five championships the perception of Kobe has slightly changed and he may be content with that, or he could add to the ring collection and challenge the undisputed king of L.A.: Magic Johnson.