It’s 2030. Someone’s hand digs through an old box, collapsed on the sides. The cardboard is held together because at the bottom rest old DVDs and cassette tapes. Luckily, the kid has an antique blue-ray player, chipped and scratched but still in working order. Pulling a case out of the box, dust swirls. He sets the disc into the player, tossing the “Greatest NBA Finals Moments” case back into the box.
Menu. Scenes. Hmmm, lets see. Bill Russell. Nah, who is that? Larry Bird, no. Michael Jordan…Dwyane Wade…what’s this? Lakers and Celtics renew rivalry? 2008. 2010. The tape begins to play and Kobe Bryant’s career arc is laid out in truth.
Jerry West. Elgin Baylor. Wilt Chamberlain. Between them, they scored 79,760 points in the NBA and made 27 All-NBA First Teams. None of them ever beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. You think Kobe doesn’t know this? Trying to get a piece of basketball history by Bryant is like snatching a few periodicals off the stands on your way out of the library. It ain’t gonna work.
For all of Bryant’s accomplishments, his four NBA titles have yet to yield him a singular enemy, one historians can link his success to. Maybe it’s because a score with him never remains unsettled. But, Indiana, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Orlando don’t make a legend.
In the Eastern Conference, Michael Jordan had the Detroit Pistons – his kryptonite that gave him something to shoot for. Once he overcame the “Jordan Rules” and then beat Magic Johnson in the Finals, it catapulted his stature. Bryant must do the same with the Boston Celtics.
June 17, 2008. Amidst a sea of green confetti, Bryant sauntered off the Boston parquet, a brooding haze covering him in exasperation and frustration. The ghosts of the Gaaaaaden followed, easing up on him. Bob Cousy was close behind him. So was George Mikan. Larry Bird was there and so was Kareem. The Logo. Magic.
Jordan might be the ultimate high for Bryant, but in order to get there, he first must conquer his purple and gold family. To do that, he must do what Magic and Kareem did: beat the Celtics. There is no way around that. If the Celtics are to beat him a second time, it will be the permanent stain that keeps Bryant from being anointed as the best Laker ever. The history between the two clubs is that important.
“I don’t think Kobe is the best player. I am the best player.”
Every scowl, every curl of the lips is aimed at the fans, the critics. He wants you to know, wants you to believe. Being the best, becoming one of the greatest ever is of no use if no one else sees it. Yet, Paul Pierce, as great as he is, doesn’t concern Kobe Bryant. For similes sake, Pierce is like the clouds. Bryant won’t stop until he is eye-level with the stars.
Brian Shaw loves to tell the story. Europe. Italy. Bryant, perhaps 11 years old or so, is playing guys on his dad’s Italian team one-on-one. To the kid, it’s all the same. Whether it’s June of 2010 and his legacy is on the line, or it’s 1989 in some backwoods, off-road gym with creaky, moldy spots in the floor, Bryant is convinced he will win. Dominate even. Shaw says the kid is still convinced he beat him. So what do you think is going through his mind right now?
He could never beat Boston. No one has more on the line during this series than Kobe Bryant. The last time these two franchises faced off, Bryant came into the 2008 NBA Finals riding a wave of momentum. The Lakers had been unbeatable after trading in early February for Pau Gasol. They raced through the Western Conference in the playoffs, stampeding Denver, Utah and San Antonio. Bryant was the reigning regular season MVP and was averaging 31.9 points in the postseason. Yet, the Celtics still neutered him. He eclipsed 30 points just two times during the six-game series, and had nary a career-defining moment or highlight-altering play. You don’t think he doesn’t remember that?
“The challenge is to win the championship. The Celtics are in the way.” Yeah, right. We all know it’s deeper than that.
In Game 1 on Thursday night, Chris Rock couldn’t faze him, couldn’t even get a smirk out of Bryant. It was like he was a droid, powered off as he sat on the bench. The finish line is too close. His foul shots have noticeably more arc and his pull-up jumpers are fluid. His whole game is on balance, slowed-down, tweaked to the point that a 10-22 night from the field is off. A first quarter fallaway left Pierce shaking his head. Two third quarter slams took the Celtics’ hearts.
In Game 2 yesterday, it was Bryant’s foul trouble that allowed him to log the least amount of minutes amongst the starters, finishing with only 21 points on 8-20 shooting.
There will always be talk about Bryant’s place in the annals of NBA history. People are obsessed with lists and this is as good a time as any to bring them up. Kobe Bryant’s career will never fully realize it’s potential unless he beats the Celtics. That’s a fact. How high can Bryant climb on that G.O.A.T. list? Two weeks from now, we will know for certain.
What do you think? If Kobe can’t beat the Celtics, will it tarnish his legacy?
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