Kobe Bryant The Competitor Fuels The Los Angeles Lakers
Enjoy Kobe while he lasts folks, when he's gone you'll never see another one like him ever again.
The two golden stars of this new NBA generation decided playing together was more fun than ripping each other's hearts every spring. Between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson you had the game's two best players (2 of the 5 best ever) who had tremendous mutual admiration for one another, and eventually formed a special friendship that culminated in Magic being one of the key note speakers at Bird's Boston Garden retirement party. But make no mistake all admiration and friendship was over when the games started.
Magic was famous for saying that it drove him to practice because he always knew that Larry was somewhere working on his game. Beating the other player was the way Bird and Magic measured their skills, almost like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio measuring themselves by their at bats against Bob Feller. Despite their unique friendship the two hall of fame friends would never have dreamed of playing together.
As Michael Jordan rose to prominence it was Bird and Magic who set the standard for Michael and then watched Jordan take everything to another level. Kobe Bryant, the most analyzed and scrutinized player of 21st Century, is cut from the same mold that produced Larry, Magic, and Michael. Love or hate Kobe you cannot deny that he is one of the great competitors of all-time.
Kobe's hyper competitive nature hasn't always acted as his best asset. That side of Kobe fueled his feud with Shaq and forced Phil Jackson from the Lakers bench after the 2003-2004 seasons. Phil's book entitled "The Last Season" that came out after his 2004 departure painted a terrible picture of Kobe The Competitor. In "The Last Season" Jackson describes a scene during a timeout where he questioned Bryant's decision to make a particular pass:
"You can't make that pass,' I told Kobe when he came off the court on the next timeout. 'Well, you better teach those motherf------ how to run the offense".
Kobe The Competitor has come a long way since the days of his angry young man act. The evolution of Kobe went to another level in the 2007-2008 season. Paul Gasol was gift wrapped to the Lakers from Memphis and Bryant won his first MVP. That summer he saved the Redeem Team in the Gold Medal game and showed his Olympic teammate LeBron James the kind work ethic it takes to become one of the 10 greatest players of all-time. Following LeBron's summer with Kobe he won back-to-back MVPs and led another wise pedestrian CAVS team to consecutive 60 win seasons.
The 2008-2009 season saw Kobe win the singular title that he craved the most, and the next season he beat Boston validating his career as one of the 3 best in Lakers history. From 2007 to the present Kobe has set the bar for LeBron and Wade in every conceivable aspect. Even on the backside of his prime Kobe Bryant is still setting the standard for excellence in the NBA.
With his competitive nature now completely harnessed he has played the best basketball of his hall of fame career over the last 5 years. Bryant's work has been validated by 2 more NBA titles and a Gold Medal.
When Kobe's star finally does fade and his generation that includes Shaq, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce no longer has full ownership of the league we as basketball fans will all feel a sense of something missing. Gone will be the absolute blood thirsty competitiveness that seemed to be a hall mark for each previous generation of NBA stars.
When the guys who broke in during the final seasons of Michael Jordan's second 3-peat are done we will be left with the AAU-NBA where everyone still wants to win as long as they can do it with their uber talented buddies in a sexy market. Kobe is the leading star in a soon to be by-gone generation. When he finally decides to yield the stage to Generation Next there will be a large number of basketball fans who will regret not cherishing more of Kobe's prime. Do yourself a favor and take a moment to embrace Kobe; He's been a virtual hardwood Picasso, painting one of the game's greatest resumes.