With his fourth NBA championship wrapped up, Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant got a 7–1, 325-pound monkey off his back by winning his first title without the help of center Shaquille O’Neal.
The break up of the best big-little duo the game had ever seen following the 2003–04 season was something Kobe could never shake unless he reached the mountaintop again—especially when Shaq won a championship without Bryant as a member of the Miami Heat (with shooting guard Dwyane Wade in 2005–06 season).
Bryant never really addressed the issue, no matter how many times he was questioned about it. But during the post-game press conference after winning his fourth championship he finally did.
“It was like Chinese water torture. I would cringe every time,” he said.
“I was just like, it’s a challenge I’m just going to have to accept because there’s no way I’m going to argue it. You can say it until you’re blue in the face and rationalize it until you’re blue in the face, but it’s not going anywhere until you do something about it.”
Well, there is really no reason to argue it now, as he has won a championship without Shaq’s help, but I’ll argue for Kobe anyway.
Shaq would have never won three championships without Kobe. And the big-little duo would not have won three straight without the help of guys like “Big Shot Bob” Robert Horry, Derek Fischer, Rick Fox, and so on.
What Kobe just did to win his fourth championship was most impressive.
While Kobe carried the load to this championship, Shaq rode Wade’s coattails to his fourth championship.
After going down 0–2 to the Dallas Mavericks, Wade went off in the next four games averaging 39 points en route to the championship and finals MVP.
I’m not saying Kobe did it alone—just that he did more for number four than Shaq did when he won with the Heat.
Bryant had a very young, talented team around him with finals experience along with a Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson.
And Kobe isn’t done yet.
Since being drafted as a 17-year-old, talks began of Bryant being the next Jordan.
That’s quite a bit of weight to put on a kid who was soon traded to one of the most storied franchises in the NBA after originally being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets.
Thirteen years later Kobe has lived up to the hype and still has more left in the tank.
With this championship, Bryant has solidified himself as one of the best players of all time—top 10 and on the bubble of top five—but is still only the second best shooting guard of all time behind Jordan.
“His Airness” Michael Jordan’s six championships are now in Kobe’s sights and this is a number Bryant would love to at least match. With the team he now has, this goal is within reach.
Aside from Bryant and Fischer, all the Lakers players are under 30. The team’s average age is only 26.
While power forward Lamar Odom will turn 30 at the beginning of the season, it is not certain if he will return to the Lakers.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak will have trouble keeping both Odom and small forward Trevor Ariza.
Personally, I’d keep Ariza.
Nothing against Odom—he’s a 6–10 power forward that can do just about anything, but he’ll be 30, his play is inconsistent, and he’s already reached his peak.
Ariza on the other hand is 24, and his emergence in the playoffs just scratches the surface of his full potential.
He is great perimeter defender, and can be a lock-down defender on the opposing team’s best offensive player, which would take that burden of Kobe.
Ariza is also a great perimeter shooter and seems to be gaining in confidence in taking his man off the dribble and to the bucket.
So if Kobe can win two more, one could at least be able to argue that Kobe is the best ever, although he would have to do some ridiculous things on the way to two more titles to surpass Jordan.
But remember that Jordan did take two years off to go pursue his dream of playing profession baseball, stopping him and the Chicago Bulls from winning eight championships in a row, which would have made him totally untouchable as the greatest ever.
Aside from chasing Jordan, if Kobe leads the Lakers to two more titles, his Lakers would tie the rival Celtics franchise with 17 NBA titles.
Then there’s also the kid from Cleveland, LeBron James.
Before and during the season many had written Kobe off and said this is now LeBron’s time, that it was his league, and he was now the best player on the planet.
While James may have won the league MVP, Kobe led his team to a championship, which is more important in an era where success and greatness is measured by winning championships.
For now LeBron will have to wait to truly be King James because Kobe won’t be giving up his crown anytime soon.
It will have to be taken from him.
Matt Sugam also writes for The Daily Targum at Rutgers University.