Is Kobe Bryant the greatest player in Lakers history?
That is the unavoidable question that has been thrown around print and online media members, patrons at sports bars and family living rooms each time Bryant reaches a milestone or plays for another NBA championship.
It’s quite a lofty position considering Bryant has to overcome two players who are more than worthy of the GLE (Greatest Laker Ever) title: Jerry West and Magic Johnson.
West is Kobe’s idol and the longtime image of the NBA. His silhouette (allegedly) is on the NBA logo for God’s sakes. West has long been considered Mr. Laker until the arrival of Johnson, who has become the unofficial King of L.A. since Laker owner Jerry Buss chose him to be the face of the franchise in 1979. Few can argue Johnson’s status as GLE since his bronze statue stands on Star Plaza outside Staples Center.
(Note: Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are three of the best players in NBA history, but because they played for other teams most Laker fans consider them as hired guns. And, for whatever reason, Kareem has always taken a backseat to Magic. Just look at their positions in the Lakers hierarchy. Magic is part owner while Kareem is a special assistant. Fair? Probably not. Dr. Buss has always favored Magic over Kareem. Same goes with West over Wilt and Kobe over Shaq. West and Johnson played their entire careers with the Lakers, and Bryant has a no-trade clause in his contract so he should finish his career wearing purple and gold.)
Bryant is a polarizing figure. He is both beloved and hated. He may go down in history as the most talented Laker of all time, but his off-the-court persona and his 2004 rape charge still haunt him. But all of that may soon change if Bryant win’s a fifth NBA title.
Standing in Bryant’s way of a fifth championship ring are the Boston Celtics, the same franchise that broke West’s heart seven times in the NBA Finals and the same franchise that Johnson had to hurdle to cement his legacy.
But does Bryant need to defeat the Celtics in order to be considered the greatest Laker ever?
Bryant says “no,” but who is he kidding. This is the same guy who can recite the NBA record book and has worked himself to exhaustion to be considered the best in the game. Of course he knows he has to defeat the Celtics to even be in the conversation with Magic.
Should Bryant’s Lakers win another NBA title, he would tie Magic with five rings. And should Bryant’s Lakers defeat the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, he would join a short list of Lakers to have beaten Boston in a playoff series.
When pressed on who is the greatest Laker of all time, without hesitation, Bryant would pick West. But he is almost obligated to say because West is the reason Bryant is in the league and The Logo has long been Bryant’s biggest ally and mentor.
And if you ask West “who is the greatest Laker of all time?” He would say, “Kobe Bryant.”
Bryant has been extra surly and salty toward the media throughout these NBA playoffs because he knows what is at stake. He knows the Celtics hold the key to his Laker legacy and a loss would knock him down a peg while a victory would mean an invitation to the forefront of Laker lore.
“They’re always fun. The challenge of them is what makes it fun,” Bryant said when L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke asked him if he still enjoys playing on the big stage given his recent mood swings.
“It’s the matchups from game to game,” he added. “You win one game, you lose the next game. Those kinds of series are always fun to be a part of because The Finals is and should be the ultimate test.”
Right now, the ultimate test is to beat Boston twice to win the championship, a daunting task that faces Bryant and the Lakers.
Does he a message for his team?
“Just man up and play. What the hell is the big deal. I don’t see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to them then we don’t deserve to be champions.”
This article was previously published on June 17, 2010 at OneManFastBreak.net, an online journal for basketball fans around the world and a partner of SportsFanLive.com. To read more articles from Joel Huerto, visit www.OneManFastBreak.net or www.SportsFanLive.com.