Still, Kobe being Kobe is great enough.
Kobe Bryant is great, by the way, even though he spent most of Thursday night inside Staples Center operating as if he were dribbling with one hand on the ball and the other around his throat.
Which brings us to a problem for Bryant, especially since his admirable yet unreachable goal is to rise higher than anybody in NBA history. This was a Game 7 -- the ultimate of games in sports for the elite -- and somebody not named Kobe Bryant was the most valuable player. It was Ron Artest, Bryant's teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers, and Artest forgot that he only was supposed to be a bit player in Bryant's show by becoming the more consistent performer for the evening.
In contrast, Bryant was worse than inconsistent.
He mostly was awful.
We're back to Bryant's goal. With a world championship on the line, neither Michael nor Magic vanished for long stretches as blatantly as Kobe did in this one. He eventually recovered at the end to help push the Lakers to an 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics, but what about those other three quarters and five minutes or so?
"You know, I just wanted it so bad, and sometimes you want it so bad, it slips away from you," said Bryant, who missed a slew of long jumpers -- badly, too. He also couldn't shoot free throws. He even fired an airball, and he botched a layup, and he often turned the ball over without much prodding. Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, "Well, he found himself frustrated out there for a number of minutes, but he stayed with it, and he found ways to help us win."
That's what great players do. They forget what happened before, and they find a leaping Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone. They smash a shot heard around the world in the bottom of the ninth. They also become the battling Kobe to help the Lakers conquer the bruising Celtics along with the brutal Kobe during crunch time.
It just took so long -- you know, significantly longer than it would have taken for Michael or Magic.
"In the first half, I just mentioned (to Bryant that) I thought he was a little bit animated," said Jackson, who politely was suggesting that Bryant was choking from the pressure -- some of it self-imposed.
Not only did Bryant wish to give the Lakers a second consecutive world championship, but he admitted in the aftermath what everybody already knew. That is, he was lying about not caring that Lakers versus Celtics ranked among the biggest rivalries in sports.
"You guys know what a student I am of the game," Bryant said. "I know every series that the Lakers have played in. I mean, I was just a Laker nut, and I know every Celtics series, I know everything statistic."
Then there was Bryant's biggest fib of all. Time after time, he suggested during the NBA Finals that the Michael thing was a figment of the media's imagination, that Bryant really wasn't obsessed with getting this fifth world championship to get closer to Michael Jordan's six.
Said a grinning Bryant, sporting more than a frown for the first time since the start of winter, "I mean, it's tough for me to really put that in any kind of context in terms of (how Jordan) and I (go), because 90 percent of what I've learned and what I've figured out comes from him."
Bryant needed to apply that other 10 percent from Jordan's playbook on Thursday night, especially when he was along his way to missing 11 of 14 shots in the first half. Overall, he sank just six out of 24 field goals, and he missed four free throws. He also had four turnovers.
"He was trying too hard, and I thought he's a guy that can try hard and get things accomplished by sheer will," said Jackson, who also coached that Michael guy to all of his world championships for the Chicago Bulls. "But this night was not one that (Bryant) was able to do that on. He had to do things that were off the ball, and things that were in the context of what we wanted to do offensively."
For instance: Bryant needed to rebound. So he did, finishing with 15, second only to Pau Gasol's 18 for the game.
Then Bryant needed to respond to an arena packed in purple and gold that was screaming for their hero to do something -- anything -- early in the fourth quarter with the Celtics flashing no signs of ending their game-long domination. More specifically, the Celtics led 59-55 during a timeout inside the game's final nine minutes, and the crowd began a spontaneous chant of "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe."
It grew louder and louder.
"I'll be really honest with you. I didn't even hear them," said Bryant, who nevertheless responded like he did. That's because he promptly enticed the Celtics' Ray Allen to bang into his 6-foot-6 frame behind the three-point line for a foul, and he sank all three free throws.
Three minutes later, after Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer from outside of Las Vegas to tie things at 64-64, Bryant put the Lakers ahead for good with a couple of free throws followed by an 18-footer.
Bryant was named the MVP of the NBA Finals for the second time during his 14 seasons, mostly for games one through six against the Celtics, and definitely not for Game 7. He shrugged, still smiling, before saying, "It's whatever it takes to win the game."
Sounds like Magic, an incomparable talent, who took such an approach to win five world championships for the Lakers. He was named the MVP of the NBA Finals three of those times.
Speaking of Magic, he was there on the post-game podium to help his old team celebrate what became the 16th world championship ever for the Lakers franchise. Said Magic, otherwise known as Earvin Johnson, taking a break from his current role as an NBA television analyst to address the dancers and the shouters in the stands, "We do have the greatest player in the world in Kobe Bryant."
He is the greatest in the world ... right now.