Magic Johnson is a friend, for starters, not to mention a trailblazer whose place in Lakers lore stood alone long before it was immortalized on the steps outside the Staples Center.
Of course Bryant knows that he'll match Johnson's five championships with a win in Game 7 on Thursday and perhaps be known as the best Laker ever. Of course he's aware that he'd be within one of Michael Jordan's six rings if he can beat back these Boston Celtics, thus further legitimizing his place in the conversation about the best player of all-time. And of course he's noticed that there's a historical buzz in the air now that the league's best rivalry has reached the game's last-stop stage.
He just doesn't care.
He cares about one thing. Winning one game.
No one on either side has been as unwilling to discuss the context at hand, the storylines and the sagas, as the uncooperative Bryant. He hasn't always declined with a scowl. He has grinned on occasion, or simply sat expressionless. Tuesday night's Game 6 press conference featured Bryant with both hands cupped beneath his chin, his fingers tapping his cheeks as he did his necessary media work before getting back to the work that really matters.
"It's business as usual for him, with an emphasis on focus and intensity," said Lakers assistant Brian Shaw, the former teammate of Bryant's who always has a pulse on the heartbeat of the league's best player. "I think he knows that his teammates will be looking at him to see how he comes out and how he's approaching the game. There's not going to be any clowning around. He's going to have an intense look on his face. He's going to be very focused."
You didn't need Shaw to tell you that much, though. Everyone, most of all the Celtics, knows exactly what to expect from the player who has retaken his reputation as the best player in the game in this postseason.
"He is (the best in the league), period," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who will likely move to center Thursday in the absence of Kendrick Perkins while Rasheed Wallace will likely start at forward. "I wouldn't disagree with that. He makes his team go. He's their life, does multiple things in the game, and every time you speak of Kobe, you speak of excellence, you think of excellence. (He's a) class act, plays with a vengeance and tenaciousness, well-respected around the league. I can keep going and going."
Boston can't afford to let Bryant do just that, whether it's scoring incessantly or transitioning into distributor mode and orchestrating an offensive masterpiece. And if ever there was a time to take the gimmicky approach to winning one game -- a la Phoenix and its short-lived zone defense success in the Western Conference Finals -- this might be it for Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Start the other Allen, as in Tony instead of Ray, or at least play him more than the 16.2 minutes per game he has played thus far in the series. While it could obviously come as a big blow to the Celtics' already-significant offensive struggles (88.2 points per game in the series), the decline in Bryant's production with Tony Allen standing between him and the basket is notable enough to warrant a longer look.
According to ESPN Stats, Bryant is shooting just 22.6 percent in the Finals when being guarded by Tony Allen. The Celtics reserve has guarded Bryant for 117 of 454 possessions (25.7 percent of the time), while scoring 28 of his 177 points against him (15.8 percent).
Bryant is far less involved with Tony Allen on him as well, touching the ball on 70.9 percent of his possessions against him as compared to 90.8 percent with any other Boston defender. In Game 6, Bryant was 1 of 7 shooting with six points in 26 possessions against him.
Not that Tony is about to boast. He has done quite the opposite, in fact, answering all questions about Bryant with extreme political correctness while rightfully fearing that the "The Black Mamba" might strike.
At Wednesday's media session, however, it was the use of Bryant's nickname that finally inspired Tony Allen to break script.
"I honestly don't even know what the hell a Mamba is," he said while shaking his head. "I swear, I don't even know the definition of a Mamba. But I'm going to tell you this about Kobe Bryant, about Kobe Bean Bryant -- I'm going to tell you that he's a competitor and he definitely plays every game like he wants to win every game. That's definitely what I like about him."
Which is distinctly different than actually liking him. Bryant, who called Tony Allen "a great defender" on Wednesday, doesn't allow him or anyone else to get between his ears, keeping his words at a minimum while honing in on the historic goal at hand.
"I've said the whole season (that if) you don't win a championship, it's a failure," Bryant said. "It's as simple as that."