Has any one player in NBA history ever had a more incredible ride than Kobe Bryant has had over the past two years? Let’s just think about it for a second. At the beginning of last year Kobe wanted out of L.A. because they didn’t seem committed to building a winner. Then he didn’t want out, then he did, then who knows what he wanted. The Lakers start off well amidst all of the Kobe trade rumors and all is well in Lakerland until the young, talented Andrew Bynum goes down and is out for the season. All of a sudden the Lakers trade Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown and Jarvis Critterdon to the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau Gasol in a move I like to call The Spanish Acquisition. The Lakers are a young, up and coming team and they’re rolling through the regular season en route to a 57-25 regular season record that was far and above the .500 team everyone thought the Lakers would be. They rolled through the Western Conference playoffs, not really being tested at all until they reach the NBA Finals where they met their long-time rivals the Boston Celtics. The Lakers extend the series to 6 games, but it was never really that close.
Next came the Olympics in which Kobe led the Redeem Team to a gold medal. Playing with the greatest players in the world, they all commented on Kobe’s work ethic. How he was the first one in the gym every morning and the last one to leave because he was spending extra time it the weight room. The talked about he selfless he was by sacrificing his scoring numbers because he wanted to guard and shut down the opposing teams best player every night. In the Gold Medal game he ran through a pick set by his Lakers teammate Pau Gasol, just to set the tone. LeBron and Carmelo Anthony both admired how he led the team and how Kobe taught them how important defense is.
Now, we get to 2008-2009 NBA season; a season of expectation, a season of promise, a season of destiny. Many basketball fans and analyst who are easily amazed and influenced by flashy numbers and media hype somehow discount the three titles Kobe won with Shaq. They felt his career wouldn’t be validated if he didn’t win one on his own. Everyone acknowledged that Kobe is one of the great players, but they felt to put him in the Magic and Jordan category he had to win at least one more ring. The Lakers started out fast with the best record in the NBA. Then, the annual Andrew Bynum injury happens in Memphis, but instead of folding Kobe comes out the next night in Madison Square Garden and drops 61 on the Knicks, the most points ever by an opposing player. This wasn’t Kobe reverting back to being a scoring machine, oh no, this was much more than that. This was Kobe telling Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to step up their games. This was Kobe telling LeBron that he still holds the title of best player in the universe. This was Kobe telling the rest of the league that the Lakers weren’t going anywhere and the road to get an NBA championship would have to come through him. This was also Kobe being a leader, something he’s been falsely accused of not being his entire career.
The Lakers ended up finishing with the second best record in the league, but first in the West at 65-17. In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers face a tough Jazz team who they dispatch of in 5 games. Next, the undermanned, but defensively sound Rockets take the Lakers to 7, then in the Western Conference Finals the Lakers dispose of the Nuggets in 6. Bring on the NBA Finals. The Lakers match up with the Orlando Magic. The Magic were the trendy pick because of how they dismantled the Cavs, but there was one little think that many were overlooking, the greatness of Kobe Bryant. Kobe averaged over 30 points and 7 assists for the Finals. While he didn’t shoot great from the field, he was great on both ends of the floor. In the closing game, he made every right decision. As a basketball fan, that was one of the best floor games I’ve seen. Kobe made the right passes, knew when to take shots and played excellent defense. Let’s not forget that he’s been playing with two dislocated fingers and torn ligaments on his shooting had that he refused to get surgery on because he would miss too much time. It a day and age where players miss games due to a jammed fingers, Kobe was being a warrior. After the game, to see Kobe hoist the Finals MVP tropy, to see Kobe celebrate with the fans, his teammates and his coach made Kobe’s journey worth all of pain and criticize he endured.