Kobe's Opportunity to Recast Legacy
Her sentiment is not among a small minority, like the fans of the Denver Nuggets in the state of Colorado where Kobe was infamously tried, but not convicted, half a decade ago for being a violent adulterer. In the wake of President Clinton's intern affair, a Time-CNN poll found that 35 percent of Americans are so put out by cheating that they think it should be a crime.
There is nothing Kobe can do to change those thoughts about him as a person, and maybe there shouldn't be anything. But he can still manage people's perception of him at what he does best, play basketball, and that opportunity has never been more defined for him in his 13 years in the NBA -- 13 seasons and he's still only 30! -- than it is now.
Kobe has a chance to go from being undeniably great to being arguably -- drum roll, please -- The Greatest.
After all, what Kobe has the opportunity to do over the next two weeks in the NBA Finals is something that's only been done twice in the NBA's greatest era, which was born 30 years ago with the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And neither Magic nor Bird was the one to do it.
It is something that the prematurely lauded LeBron James -- whose no-show after his last game of this season proved him to be not so grown up beyond his years after all -- was threatening to do. Kobe is daring to win an NBA championship without another bona fide superstar at his side, pretty much carrying an entire starting five, roster and franchise on his own.
To be sure, look back at the NBA's list of its greatest players over its first half century. It includes Magic and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, all of whom paired or combined to win all those NBA titles during the '80s. It includes Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, all of whom did the same for the Celtics over the same stretch.
It includes Dr. J and Moses Malone, who paired on the 76ers team that broke the Lakers-Celtics stronghold on NBA superiority in the '80s. It includes Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who won Houston's second consecutive title in 1995.
And it includes Michael Jordan, of course, who has been voted the greatest athlete of the last century, and his sidekick Scottie Pippen, who brought Chicago six crowns sandwiched around Houston's pair when Jordan was on hiatus.
The list was compiled before the '96 season tipped off and, as a result, does not include Tim Duncan -- who undoubtedly will go down as a Top 50 player -- who teamed with list honoree David Robinson to win two titles. It doesn't include Kobe or Dwyane Wade, both of whom joined list member Shaquille O'Neal to win titles in Los Angeles and Miami, respectively. It doesn't include Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce, who carried Boston back to the top last season. It doesn't include any of the superstars off the 2004 championship Pistons' team and never will because none of those players will ever go down among the league's best 50 ever.
The exceptions: the Pistons' teams led by maybe the finest point guard ever -- NBA 50 Greatest Players' honoree Isiah Thomas -- which won back-to-back titles as the 80s turned into the 90s. And the first Houston title team in 1994 led by Olajuwon before the arrival of Drexler.
Olajuwon played with no All-Stars in 1994. Isiah played with one All-Star during his Pistons' reign -- Joe Dumars. Kobe is playing with one All-Star this season -- Pau Gasol.
Not long after most of us came to believe that Kobe chased Shaq out of Los Angeles, we asked which of the estranged superstars would win a title without the other. Most of us guessed right in picking the Big Aristotle.
We then said Kobe would have to win a title on his own to make up for the sin of running off Shaq and prove he is as great as or greater than he appears. In one fell swoop over the next two weeks, Kobe can atone for it all. And I'll bet that he does.
Could Magic have run a Worthy-less or Abdul-Jabbar-less Lakers to the finish line first? We'll never know.
Could Bird have pushed a Parish-less and McHale-less Celtics to titles? We'll never know.
Could Jordan have dragged a Pippen-less Bulls to a title? We'll never know that, either.
But we did just learn, again, that it was too much to expect King James to lead his court to a championship without such a Sundance Kid or Robin at his side.
Neither Gasol nor Lamar Odom, who doesn't even start, is a yang to Kobe's yin, either. They are complements to whom Kobe is less likely to relegate his legacy as he approaches its potential apex. He tried that last year and it didn't work. He averaged 34 in the conference finals against Denver -- slightly more than Jordan's record playoff average.
We know how great Kobe is, having been the youngest All-Star at 19 in just his second season as a pro, and having won three All-Star MVPs, a league MVP (he's been shorted), multiple All-NBA First Team and Defensive Team honors, two scoring titles and all those rings -- with Shaq. We know how infamous he is after the trial.
What we're about to find out is how immortal Kobe is. He's already done some things Jordan never did, like drop 81 and put up at least half a hundred in four straight games. A crown with a team like this would be one more, and then some.