2009 NBA Champoins [Bill Simmons / ESPN]

Well it took me nearly a week to finally open my laptop and write about the NBA Finals and the 2009 Champions : The Los Angeles Lakers.
But, if you don't mind, I would like to say something about the man who was at the centre of this year Playoffs ; Kobe Bryant.

Since last year (20 months ago to be exact), Kobe has won the league MVP, an All-Star MVP and the 09 Finals MVP awards; he played in two straight Finals and won a title; he starred on an Olympic gold medal team, took over in the most important game against Spain to deliver the victory. Most amazingly, he played in the maximum 164 regular-season games and 44 playoffs games without getting a summer break because of the Olympics. And he did it despite turning 30 in August 2008.

The fact is that we just witnessed one of the great two-year stretches in the history of professional basketball if the determining factors were durability, consistency, individual success, team success, statistical excellence and degree of difficulty. Kobe's 2007-2009 stretch ranks alongside these post-shot-clock efforts (in no particular order): Bill Russell (1961-63), Jerry West (1964-66), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68), Bill Russell (1967-69), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-72), Larry Bird (1985-87), Magic Johnson (1986-88), Michael Jordan (1990-92), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-95), Michael Jordan (1996-98) and Tim Duncan (2001-03).

Let me tell you something, we will never see another Michael Jordan, just like we will never see another Marlon Brando or John Lennon. It's just not happening. They might compare statistically and stylistically, but Jordan could command a room of 10 people or 20,000 and get the exact same reaction: Every set of eyes trained on him for as long as he was there. His personality, his charisma, his aura, his passion ... indescribable. Like nothing I have ever seen. Jordan was always the coolest guy in the room, and when he would walk to an arena, everybody would freeze, and you would hear screams, and then it would be a sea of lightbulbs. And everyone was saying the same thing, "I get to say I watched Michael Jordan."

Kobe always wanted people to feel that way about him. He shaved his head, made music videos, jumped cars for viral videos, changed his number, stole Jordan's fist pump, created that creepy face where he stuck his bottom two teeth out ... none of it worked. He will never command a room like Jordan did. Sorry. But he does share one crucial trait with Jordan: He's a professional of the highest order. He shows up every single night. It's just ingrained in him. Since they acquired Pau Gasol 17 months ago, the Lakers have not lost three games in a row. Why? Because of Kobe Bryant. He will always try hard. Always. It's the best thing about him. And really, that's what made Kobe's performance special this spring: The degree of difficulty for someone maintaining that intensity for 20 months (without missing a single game or getting a summer break) is absolutely off the charts. It's remarkable.

At this specific point in his career, Kobe Bryant shouldn't have been able to play as consistently well as he did. He shouldn't have been able to survive overtime periods in Game 2 (his 205th straight game in 20 months) and Game 4 (No. 207) and thrived in Game 5. Basketball might be a team sport, but in this specific case, an individual's will stood out and made the accomplishment of the group seem ancillary.

Look, I don't know how much of Kobe's personality is contrived. I don't know if this is the same selfish guy we watched five years ago, only with a freshly polished veneer that hides every demon lurking inside. I don't know if he learned how to play the part of a leader, almost like a trained actor, to throw everyone off his selfish scent. I don't know if he's sitting there tonight thinking, "I won my fourth title!" instead of, "We won the title!" Odds are, we will never figure these things out.

But I do know this: What Kobe Bryant accomplished over the past 20 months ranks up there with anything that ever happened in the National Basketball Association. He walks among the NBA gods now. Like it or not.



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