By Craig Kwasniewski
Notice how focused Kobe was after beating the Suns? Those sick shots, the concentration down the stretch as the game got tight. Typical Kobe traits, yes, but much more than that. He had an edge... it's like he was tasting the NBA Finals on the tip of his tongue and wanted to dive in. You can see him get locked in as the series moved on. His game taken to a level we rarely see.
Afterwords, notice how he's not merely satisfied with a seventh trip to the finals or a shot at defending the 2009 title? Nope, for Kobe it's much more that the journey. Much more than facing the Big Three or even Rajon Rondo (and really I need to swap that order, it's Rondo's world and we're just visiting)... this title is all about Kobe's legacy.
Kobe's won an MVP, a Finals MVP, Four titles, three All-Star MVP's and two scoring titles... all great for anyone but Kobe. Really at this point Kobe Bryant is facing Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan...two greats that with 5 and 6 titles each that can be caught in the next two years.
Before Kobe can even be put in the same sentence as MJ he needs to surpass Magic as the greatest Laker of all time. Forget being the greatest scorer in franchise history or having four titles. To be the best Laker of all time Kobe needs to win a title against their greatest rival, the Boston Celtics. Yeah Magic has five titles and yeah Kobe may lose this year only to get number five next year, but he's not in the discussion as greatest Laker ever until he beats Boston.
Naively, I never understood the love for the Showtime Era over the Triangle Era. The Triangle Era Lakers, at times, were more dominant and did something the Showtime Era never did, threepeat. (I'm a Phil Jackson guy which mean I loathe Pat Riley and feel his ego outweighs his achievements. TRUE! So I never really understood why Lakers fans continue to treat Riles as their son and Jackson as an outsider.) But Lakers fans are still very nostalgic for Magic, Kareem, Worthy and Riles. Phil Jackson might have more titles, Kobe might have scored more, even Shaq might have been more dominant... but they never beat Boston. Showtime was the first to do it and even if Phil and Kobe surpass Showtime in titles the only ones that count here in LA are the ones over Boston. People may be too young to remember the Russell years, but they remember 1984 and they definitely remember 2008, two of the most painful losses in franchise history. Kobe needs to be a part of that Celtics exorcism (and really Phil Jackson too) to be considered the greatest in Lakers history.
Until then, Magic Johnson is the face of the franchise... no contest.