Kobe’s Redemption Song
Can Kobe become a fan-favorite in 2010?
by David Dennis
Only in the world of Kobe Bean Bryant can a fifth NBA championship come as a detriment to his legacy. Sure, the Lakers could have lost. Badly. Just like they did in 2008. But in terms of championship victories, the 2010 NBA Finals was rough for Bryant.
More important than NBA Championships are NBA Finals moments. Jordan has tons: The switching hands in mid-air lay-up, The Shrug, scoring all but three points in the fourth quarter to beat the Suns in Game 6, The Flu Game, The Shot. Kobe Bryant hasn’t had a memorable NBA Finals game since he took over against the Pacers in overtime during Game 4 in the 2000 Finals. And, according to most of you, that was during the Shaq years so it didn’t count anyway.
Game 7 could have been Kobe’s moment. Imagine the praise heaped on him if he’d have scored 40 points or put on a 4th quarter rally or hit the game-winner. In a make-or-break game for Bryant’s legacy, Game 7 was a definite letdown.
That game seemed to be Kobe’s last chance at approaching the rare air reserved for Jordan, Magic, Bird and the rest. Because, really, who was left? The Celtics are still aging. The Magic are still clueless. And LeBron was still incapable of reaching the Finals.
Let’s not forget the biggest reason Kobe isn’t celebrated like the other MVP multi-champions: People hate him. Whether it’s because of the wannabe Jordan mannerisms, Colorado, the belief that he ran off Shaq, the cocky attitude, or a combination of all of them; Kobe Bryant is one of the most hated men in the NBA.
But that all changed with one man’s announcement that he’d be enjoying some sun in South Beach.
With on self-aggrandizing ESPN special, Kobe Bryant turned from villain to hero. OK, maybe not “hero” as much as “a guy who doesn’t suck as much as the other guy.” Either way, LeBron’s decision to move to Miami has given Kobe Bryant a chance at greatness that many though he lost with each ugly Game 7 brick.
Now, Kobe’s the anti-LeBron. And that’s undeniably a good thing.
LeBron eschewed greatness to join All-Stars that could shoulder the load. Kobe doesn’t want help and openly scoffed at the idea of teaming with LeBron. LeBron ditched a team when he didn’t win. Kobe stuck with the Lakers his whole career, temper tantrums notwithstanding. And if Kobe Bryant can defeat The Evil Miami Trifecta of Doom, then it can bring that defining Finals moment missing from his repertoire.
Bill Russell has 11 championships. Of all of them, the most memorable came when an aging Russell defied the odds and beat a heavily favored and stacked Lakers team that had Chamberlain, West and Baylor. Kobe has a chance to have a similar story.
As a side note: It’s also important to note that, as Shaq continues his word tour in his quest to play for every team before he retires, he’s left a legion of disgruntled teammates in his wake. Most recently, he even called Mo Williams out for the way he played in Cleveland. All of the grumblings about Shaq as a teammate have caused people to think that maybe the Kobe/Shaq deterioration wasn’t all Bryant’s fault, tempering the anti-Bryant sentiment that came out of the break-up.
As Kobe’s healing from his banged-up ’09-10 season, he has to be licking his chops at this second chance at a legacy-defining year. If Kobe can take on the Big Three and win, 2010 will be seen as the year that he ascends to the level of greatness that has seemed to elude him so far. The year would also bring redemption for all of his past mistakes and fan support that his stats have earned him. Bryant has five championships, but a sixth could bring something totally new for him: resounding national support.