Monday, May 9, 2011

Kobe Bryant Is Not Michael Jordan

I know some of you have been waiting for me to say this for almost a decade so here it goes. It is with heavy heart and much regret that I announce today Kobe Bryant will not go down in history as the greatest basketball player of all time. That distinction belongs to Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan alone. After the Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion Kobe Bryant is no longer a candidate for that position. As many of you know I have proclaimed 2011 would end Michael Jordan's reign atop the basketball world. It was my belief Kobe Bryant would capture his 6th title and 2nd three peat of his career equaling Michael Jordan's totals. That accomplishment would have opened the door for frank and earnest discussion on the subject. Instead the conversation is frowned upon and viewed as vicious rumor and speculation carried on by a handful of lunatics with delusions of grandeur. How did we get to this point?

It wasn't that long ago Lakers GM Jerry West brought Kobe Bryant in for a routine workout. In that performance Jerry instantly knew he was dealing with something special. Kobe's battles with the guards was magnificent and his skills were extra ordinary. It wouldn't take long before the Lakers asked him to join them. Young Kobe's apprenticeship got off to a rocky start though. He was head strong and ambitious. He wanted to run a marathon before he knew how to crawl. He had no discipline, or purpose. Although everyone could see the potential he lacked focus, intensity and preparation. He would need more training.

As fate would have it the Jordan era was coming to an end in Chicago. After years of infighting the Bulls dynasty finally crumbled with the firing of Phil Jackson and the retirement of Michael Jordan. Jerry West called on the services of Jackson to teach his young prodigy how to be a champion and Phil graciously accepted.

Right away Young Kobe took to the teachings of the Zen master. The triangle system became second nature and before long Kobe's game looked Jordanesque. His mannerisms, his moves on the court, and even his interviews after games reminded us of Michael Jordan. In addition Phil taught Kobe how to use all of the weapons at his disposal. Shaquille O'Neal provided the inside presence that allowed Young Kobe to flourish and develop into a star. As the dynamic duo learned how to play together the Lakers rattled off 3 straight championships.

Shortly thereafter we began to see a conflict within Kobe Bryant. He grew disenchanted with his teacher and his big brother. He wanted the stage all to himself and didn't care how his feelings impacted the rest of the Lakers organization. Kobe's immaturity and selfishness led to the trading of Shaq and the resignation of Phil Jackson.

Along the way he also ran into trouble off the court amid allegations of rape and sexual misconduct. A career that started so bright appeared dark and dim. Then a funny thing happened. Kobe did some soul searching. He realized the error in his ways and made amends with his mentor. He honed his skills and made another run at the Jordan legacy.

With the Zen master back at the helm the Lakers won 2 more championships. In Phil Jackson's last season and a team stacked with talented big men it seemed inevitable the Lakers would complete the 2nd three peat of Kobe's career. The dream quickly turned into a nightmare however when the Lakers were destroyed by a red hot Dallas Mavericks in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

I've been there through it all. The good times, the wired times, and the bad times. My association with Laker Nation is legendary. As a sports fan with my temperament and personality what more could you ask for? I talked the talk and the Lakers walked the walk. Since the miraculous comeback against Portland in game 7 of the 200o Western conference finals it's been impossible to shut me up. I've taken down entire sports bars by myself. I've instigated fights. I have friends in Philly that won't talk to me anymore after I gloated for weeks about the 01' championship. I have friends that are so tired of hearing me talk about the Lakers the first words out of their mouth when they see me is "Kobe sucks!" I've endured late night phone calls, inappropriate text messages, and lewd postings on my Facebook wall. I've enjoyed every minute of it.

My belief in Kobe was unwavering. I thought Kobe was the one, the one that could establish new world order and knock Jordan off his pedestal. Who is Michael Jordan anyway? I view him as a great basketball player, but not the Demi god everyone else makes him out to be. As a basketball purist I thought it was conceivable that someone could eventually tie or break his records and accomplishments. In my mind no one person is bigger than the game no matter how much money they make or their influence on pop culture and the world. Kobe was the last great chance to prove my point.

Coming into this season I was supremely confident. Kobe looked poised to take his rightful place next to Jordan atop Mt. Olympus. There was no way Kobe would come this close to immortality and let it slip away. Even as the Lakers went through the season as if they were sleep walking I felt they could flip the switch any time they wanted. Once again I would rub Kobe's greatness in the face of my peers and it would be wonderful.

I honestly didn't believe Dallas had a chance. There was too much at stake and the Mavericks were heartless. Game 1 went by and I wasn't fazed. Game 2 went by and I wasn't fazed. Game three went by and I got a little concerned. If I was in my right mind the second loss in Los Angeles would have been a red flag, but I couldn't see it. My loyalty and passion defied reason and logic. To make matters worse Kobe had the same mind set.

"I might be sick in the head because I still think we can win this series. I might be nuts."

Kobe's comments after the Game 3 loss.

Like a Jim Jones disciple I drank the kool aid and echoed Kobe's sentiments. The impossible was still possible. Down 22 at halftime of Game 4 I still thought it was possible. After Ron Artest missed a break away lay up I still.......... Eventually reality set in and I came to the sobering conclusion Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan and there will never be another Michael Jordan. Kobe was the last hope.

They don't make them like him anymore. Players don't have the drive, the competitive will, the work ethic, or the desire to be great that Kobe has. The world is different now. There are no more franchise players. The old model is broken. Players collaborate and team up with other talented players to win championships so on one will ever have the claim Jordan had of carrying a team on his back. The prophecy will go unfulfilled.

I must admit I feel a little like Morpheus right now when he found out Neo was not who he thought he was. Kobe is just one of countless others that have tried to climb the mountain top and failed in the process. Before him there were many, after him there will be none. It was a fun ride, but it's come to an end. The discussion is over. Jordan wins and you'll never hear me address the subject again. The silence must be deafening already.


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