Kobe Still Not Jerry, Magic or the Rest
Actually, that's just part of it. Here's the rest for Bryant: It's also trying to prove that Jerry West is correct beyond right now.
As for right now, West delivered a backdoor-play compliment to Bryant the other day by saying LeBron James has surpassed Bryant as a player, but adding, "If I had to have somebody make a last-second shot, it would be Kobe Bryant."
To translate, West anointed Bryant as the game's best closer -- for right now. Despite Bryant's latest spurt of brilliance in the Western Conference Finals, where he virtually singlehandedly shoved the Denver Nuggets into the offseason, Bryant still isn't among the NBA elite of all-time closers at playoff time. He remains a work in progress compared to the others.
For one, West set a pick years ago to block Bryant's way.
In reverse order, here are the league's Top 5 closers ever.
5. Jerry West: The man's silhouette is the NBA's logo for a reason. He also was called Mr. Clutch for a reason. Plus, you know he loves pressure since he bleeds purple and gold, but he still told the truth that LeBron is better than Kobe. There were so many ways to show West's greatness under stress, ranging from his Lakers making the NBA Finals nine times during his 14 seasons to his ability to prosper despite several broken noses and cracked fingers. But here's all you need to know: Only Michael Jordan averaged more points per game during the playoffs than West at 33.5 to 29.1.
4. Larry Bird: No way, this guy had as much talent as the other guy he eternally was matched against during the playoffs. The other guy will be mentioned shortly. As for Bird, he always (and I mean ALWAYS) was deadly down the stretch with his offense, his defense, his mind and his mouth. He used that quartet to destroy foes along the way to a trio of league MVP awards and two NBA Final MVP awards among the three world championships that he helped his Boston Celtics win. I know that Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, but it was more that McHale and Parrish had Bird.
3. Magic Johnson: He's the other guy. See, this is Kobe's problem: Forget the NBA. Bryant isn't even within a fast break of becoming the best closer ever for the Lakers. This goes beyond the fact that Johnson has five world championship rings to Bryant's three. Unlike Bryant who had that You Know Who named Shaquille O'Neal as at least a co-reason for those titles, Johnson was the primary reason for his Lakers' success. Depending on what the moment needed, Magic always (and I mean ALWAYS) delivered with a shot, a pass, a steal, a block or a smile.
2. Michael Jordan: Ask Craig Ehlo. And folks either don't remember or don't know about something else involving these two. Yes, Jordan nailed that buzzer beater over Ehlo to push the Chicago Bulls past the Cleveland Cavaliers with The Shot along the way to other Shots. But after one of those slew of times that Jordan returned from retirement, he nailed another game-winning shot over Ehlo who had migrated to the Atlanta Hawks by then. I digress. In addition to all of those Shots, Jordan has more world championship rings (6) than West, Bird and Johnson, which is why he trumps everybody in NBA history as a closer except . . .
1. Bill Russell: Let's see, five league MVP awards, 12 All-Star Game appearances and 11 world championships in 13 seasons. Questions, anyone?
Terence Moore is a national columnist and commentator for FanHouse. He is a frequent panelist on "Rome Is Burning," an ESPN show hosted by Jim Rome, that is seen Monday through Friday at 4:30 PM ET. Moore spent more than three decades working for major newspapers, including 26 years as an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resides in Atlanta.