Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kobe Bryant the Greatest Laker, and Maybe the Greatest, Period

He's the greatest Laker of them all, and in case you didn't know, that franchise hasn't exactly had chopped liver playing for it over the generations.

It all started with No. 99, George Mikan, the NBA's first Redwood. That was when the lakes the team played near were in Minneapolis, not Los Angeles. Mikan was 6'10" at a time when any player whose head top rose more than six feet from the ground was considered basketball-ready.

Mikan played among relative Lilliputians, but that doesn't take away from the trail he blazed in the NBA; that is, being the first true big man who wasn't as immobile as a pylon, and who was dominant.

Mikan only played seven seasons in the NBA, but that's like saying Godzilla was only in Tokyo for half an hour. George left his mark, make no question.

Then there was the terrific duo of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, once the franchise moved westward to Southern California. The ole lefty from UCLA, Gail Goodrich, joined them in 1965 and soon afterward did Wilt Chamberlain, and key role players like Happy Hairston, Jim McMillian, Keith Erickson and Leroy Ellis, and that's how you win 33 straight games, as the Lakers did in 1971-72---and Baylor only played in nine games that season.

There was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who came over from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 and who would become the league's all-time leading scorer. Earvin "Magic" Johnson went from an NCAA Title with Michigan State in 1979 to an NBA Championship with the Lakers one year later.

Kobe Bryant trumps all of them. Heck, he might trump just about anyone who wore any uniform, except for Michael Jordan---and it's not a slam dunk (pun intended) that MJ was the better player.

The Lakers are in town to play the Pistons tonight. Once upon a time that meant a playoff-like atmosphere and a possible preview of the NBA Finals.

Thanks to the schedule makers, Western Conference teams only invade the Eastern arenas once a season, and vice-versa. So if you miss Kobe and the Lakers tonight, and with the state of the Pistons, you'll have to wait till next season to see the Greatest Laker of Them All.

It may seem like you've been in a time machine going backwards when you look at Bryant's age and see that he's only 32 years old. For opposing teams, that's like having the week from Hell and realizing that it's only Tuesday.

You don't have to like Kobe Bryant as a person. You don't have to include him on a list of folks you'd like to have dinner with, or to marry your daughter. It's OK if you keep a dart board in the basement with his photograph taped to it, or a voodoo doll with a Lakers No. 24 jersey on it.

It doesn't change the fact that Bryant is the greatest of all the Lakers, and when he calls it quits, he might have supplanted Abdul-Jabbar as the player who's tallied the most points ever.

It's quite possible, you know.

Kobe has a little more than 26,000 points as I write this. Kareem finished his brilliant career with 38,387 points, with only one measly three-point field goal among them.

So Bryant needs about 12,000 points to surpass the second greatest Laker of all time and become the No. 1 scorer in NBA history.

If he plays at a relatively high level---scoring between 1,800 and 2,000 points per season---Bryant can become the all-time leading scorer in six or seven seasons. He'd be 38 or 39, and you'd be foolish to bet against him still being an impact player at that age.

Remember when Shaquille O'Neal left L.A. and smirked that Kobe couldn't become a champion without the Almighty Shaq?

The Lakers are two-time defending champs and Bryant is two-time defending Finals MVP, nipping at the heels of Shaq, who won three straight of those from 2000 to 2002.

Kobe Bryant pops in about 25 points a game (at least), grabs five boards, and dishes off about that many assists. Every night. Been doing that for, oh, 12 years now. That's all.

He'll shoot his 45 percent from the field, his 84 percent from the stripe, and break your back with an occasional three-pointer at the worst possible time. He commits 2.4 fouls per game and draws about three times that many on any given night.

Has he had his moments with coach Phil Jackson? Has he feuded with teammates? Has his personal life left something to be desired?

Triple yes, but he wears five rings and has come in second place twice. You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

They say Kobe Bryant is petulant and thinks about himself first and is, frankly, a spoiled NBA brat.


He's been all those things, at one point or another. But show me an NBA player who's never been selfish, and I'll show you an unemployed NBA player whose only rings are around the collar.

You think pro basketball is a team sport first? You think you can win in today's NBA without a megastar?

Then you must be a fan of that other team that plays in the Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker of All Time. It says here that, before you know it, he'll be the NBA's All-Time Leading Scorer, too.

And at that point, Michael Jordan's legacy as the NBA's greatest player ought to be under a cloud of doubt.

Like it or not.

1 comment:

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