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Kobe Bryant knows what a Game 7 victory would mean


No, no. I'm really not trying to aim for that No. 1 spot. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


Don't believe Kobe Bryant when he says this is not a big deal, that he doesn't get caught up in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, that this rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics means nothing to him, or that he's not concerned about his legacy. He is consumed by this moment, has been driven by this opportunity, perhaps, from the moment he held a basketball and decided that he was going to make this game his life.

It has been amusing to watch Bryant work the news conference podium at these Finals, fidgeting at his seat, left hand holding up his head, and angrily answering obvious questions with denials. He isn't concerned about going down as the greatest Laker ever. It doesn't matter if he wins a championship against the Celtics.

"What is everybody's fascination with the Celtics in terms of going down in history as -- it's a little weird to me," an agitated Bryant asked last Saturday.

Asked on Wednesday why he has been reluctant to plug into the history of this 51-year rivalry, Bryant said, "Ain't got nothing to do with me right now. It's got nothing to do with me. I look back, years from now or even when I was a kid, you talk about being in this situation and being excited. But when I'm in the moment right now, I've got to play. I've got to focus on that. I can't focus on the hype about it."

In some respects, Bryant is correct. He doesn't have to beat the Celtics Thursday to secure a spot among the all-time greats. He's already cemented his place in history and franchise lore, with four championship rings, a league's most valuable player award, an NBA Finals MVP and a spot atop the Lakers' all-time scoring list. But if he does win, Bryant is well aware of the implications.

Bryant went through a similar dance with denial last year against Orlando when he repeatedly said that winning a championship without Shaquille O'Neal meant nothing to him -- until he won it and finally let loose in an emotional post-championship news conference. He also denied the importance of winning the MVP -- until he finally claimed the award in 2008.

Bryant always wants more. Needs more. He has always been motivated to go down as the greatest, which is partly why he patterned his mannerisms and style after Michael Jordan early in his career. He's 12th on the all-time scoring list with 25,720 career points and should move into the top 10, possibly top six before the end of next season. It's unlikely that he can catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or even Karl Malone (he'd need more than 11,000 points, which would mean he'd have to play at his current level for about six more seasons -- or until he's 38), but surpassing Jordan (32,292) is a realistic possibility.


Isn't it funny how nobody believes me when I say my legacy doesn't matter to me. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Bryant has already vanquished the other members his draft class (Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jermaine O'Neal), demolished the other perimeter players in his age group (Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady), and is tied for most rings of his generation with Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan (although those guys have won three NBA Finals MVPs, compared to one for Bryant). But another championship would match him with Magic Johnson and move him within one of Jordan, considered the standard bearer and the greatest ever.

"It's not at the front of his mind," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, when asked if catching Johnson and eventually Jordan mattered to Bryant. "That's not what the big issue is. It's about his personality. It's about winning. And I think in retrospect, he's going to see that at some point."

Jackson then relayed a story about how Jerry West once told him about a conversation that he had with Bryant when Bryant asked West how he and Elgin Baylor were able to both average 30 points a game when it was difficult for him to average 20 points playing with Shaquille O'Neal.

"So, at that point in his career, 21, which was the age Kobe was at that time, he was very concerned about his mortality and how was going to look at it as a basketball player," Jackson said. "At this time, I don't think it's in the back of his mind that he has to catch Magic or he has to catch Michael or anything else. He wants to win. It's what the effort is worth for him to do what he has to go through to play this game."

I would lean heavier to first part of that Jackson quote. Bryant certainly has matured since then, and with O'Neal gone, he has overcome previous stumbles in his absence to understand what it took for him to lead a team to a championship. But he remains "concerned about his mortality" and he's been fortunate to have the talent, drive and determination to push himself into the conversation. His intensity makes it difficult for him to gain much pleasure in the process.

"You can't really enjoy the moment when you're in it, in terms of what's happening," Bryant said. "You've just got a job to do, you go out there and you do it, and then you can look back at it after the fact. But during, you've just got to go out there and do your job."

Win or lose, Bryant is the central character in this series, and this Game 7. He has already played too many "legacy-defining" games to get overdramatic with this one. But Bryant understands its importance. He knows what delivering at this stage would mean for his reputation and his desired perch among the all-time greats, even if he refuses to admit it.

"If I can look back at the end of my career and just say that I gave it my all every day, I'll be happy with that," Bryant said. "Whatever shakes out from that."

But he wants this moment. Needs this moment. Don't believe him for a minute that he doesn't.

By Michael Lee  |  June 17, 2010; 1:26 PM ET
 
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Comments

Ten years from now I hope the article says John Wall for everytime they say Bryant.

Posted by: jefferu | June 17, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

"Whine or lose, Bryant is the central character in this series, and this Game 7."

Fixed it for you Mike! :)

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | June 17, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah...

I don't like the C's AT ALL but I said they were going to win so I am sticking with it.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | June 17, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Sources: Kings get 76ers' Dalembert

"But the real ramifications may come during the draft. The Sixers have been deciding between Evan Turner and Derrick Favors with the No. 2 pick. While Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski is a Turner fan, new coach Doug Collins is high on Favors. With Dalembert gone and Nocioni in, it could push them in the direction of Favors."

http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5297829

Sorry for spamming, I just had to laugh a little bit after reading this on that Falk piece earlier.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | June 17, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"But the real ramifications may come during the draft. The Sixers have been deciding between Evan Turner and Derrick Favors with the No. 2 pick. While Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski is a Turner fan, new coach Doug Collins is high on Favors. With Dalembert gone and Nocioni in, it could push them in the direction of Favors."

Doesn't this deal make Philly less likely to pick Favors? They must like Hawes to take on Nocioni's contract, and they have a glut of forwards.

Posted by: djnnnou | June 17, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Doesn't this deal make Philly less likely to pick Favors?"

I thought so also, but Brand is on the WAY down side of his career.

IFFFF they envision Turner as the starting PG then I could see no reason not to take him. Depends on how much pull Collins has I guess.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | June 17, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

The Philly move means according to 980 they will not draft Turner but Cousins instead.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | June 17, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't this deal make Philly less likely to pick Favors? They must like Hawes to take on Nocioni's contract, and they have a glut of forwards.

Posted by: djnnnou

Seems like they have a glut at 2, 3, 4 but certainly not a ton of high end quality. Seems like they'll draft whichever player they like better or feel fits in better and then sort the rest out.

Posted by: ts35 | June 17, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Seems like they'll draft whichever player they like better or feel fits in better and then sort the rest out.

Posted by: ts35

Seems like it's been more of the first. That's a complete Frankenstein('s monster) team. The only real SG they have is Willie Green and he's terrible.

Posted by: djnnnou | June 17, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Seems like it's been more of the first. That's a complete Frankenstein('s monster) team. The only real SG they have is Willie Green and he's terrible.

Posted by: djnnnou

Yep. But they have a ton of guys like Iggy, and Thad Young and Kapono and Carney if they resign him, who are all sort of similarly sized to Turner as kind of SG/SF hybrids. And then guys like Brand, Speights, Smith, etc at the PF slot. Seems like they could use either Favors or Turner. Who they draft might depend on their ability to move some of the other guys.

Posted by: ts35 | June 17, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Kobe about to put the MJ comparisons to bed if he doesnt step it up....

Posted by: divi3 | June 17, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Kobe about to put the MJ comparisons to bed if he doesnt step it up....

Posted by: divi3

I have a feeling he's waiting for the 4th. He can erase an 8-10 pt deficit on his own in a hurry.

Posted by: ts35 | June 17, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I like this trade for Philly, mostly because it dumps Dalembert, who was an overpaid underachieving malcontent who was nowhere near as good as he thought he was. And I agree that if they think Favors is the real deal they won't hesitate to draft him.

Nocioni's contract is utterly ridiculous, BTW.

Posted by: kalo_rama | June 17, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Looking at the players on the court that won the championship tonight, interesting how Les BouleS had Rasheed and could have drafted KG instead....also, could have drafted Gasol (vice Kwame).

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | June 18, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Looking at the players on the court that won the championship tonight, interesting how Les BouleS had Rasheed and could have drafted KG instead....also, could have drafted Gasol (vice Kwame).

Posted by: DC_MAN88

Don't forget that if we hadn't traded our #1 in 96 for Mark Price, and if we hadn't traded 3 #1s plus Googs for Webber, we could have drafted Kobe and Derek Fisher (or Steve Nash) too.

Posted by: ts35 | June 18, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

"Don't forget that if we hadn't traded our #1 in 96 for Mark Price, and if we hadn't traded 3 #1s plus Googs for Webber, we could have drafted Kobe and Derek Fisher (or Steve Nash) too.Posted by: ts35"

Right on. And if we hadn't wasted that '68 pick on Unseld, we could have snatched up Tom Boerwinkle or Guilford star Bob Kaufmann.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

Game over, Lakers win. Everybody post about how Kobe's better than Mike, these Lakers are better than Magic's. Or if you live in New England, feel free to piss on the officiating.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

There no way Kobe should have been MVP last night. I thought Ron Artest played well enough to win MVP or Fisher, Paul Gasol. Sure, Kobe is the best player on the team (leauge) but not in this series. Anyhow, unless Phil Jackson retire, I dont see any other team beating the Lakers next year.

Wizards championship 2012! Yea, I said it!

Posted by: demonj21 | June 18, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Kobe is no MJ, that's for sure.

Posted by: divi3 | June 18, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

The Philly move means according to 980 they will not draft Turner but Cousins instead.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | June 18, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Did not mean to post that again. For some reason my browser resent the info after I hit reload this morning.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | June 18, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

You know it still amazes me how Chicago could maybe have eked out at two more championships, at least one, but somehow Jerry Reinsdorf let the thing unravel to quickly and badly.

The Bulls were within shouting distance of being debated in the same breath as the Lakers and the Celts, but now they have to settle just for Michael.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | June 18, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I thought the Celts really missed Perkins in the post -- it let the injured Bynum get by playing only 19 minutes, and put additional pressure on Garnett, which cost them when he got tired later in the game.

By the way, Glen Davis' listed weight is 289. I'm sure he weighed 289 once upon a one time, but then he graduated from high school. My guess would be 315-320. If there was ever someone born to play left tackle, it's that guy.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Or if you live in New England, feel free to piss on the officiating.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 12:48 AM

Didnt seem like there were many bad calls, but it did appear they "let them play" for 3 quarters then suddenly tightened the screws in the 4th. Overall officiating was pretty damn good for the series I thought.

Posted by: divi3 | June 18, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

"The Philly move means according to 980 they will not draft Turner but Cousins instead.
LarryInClintonMD"

An interesting idea. I figured the Sixers were mainly interested in unloading Dalembert so Collins didn't have to deal with a noisy malcontent right off the bat. Did you know that Sam became a Canadian citizen so he could play in the Olympics, then managed to get himself dismissed from the club? He must be really annoying.

Nocioni turns 31 in late November and averaged less than 20 minutes last season. He's a decent rebounder and defender but basically a 3 point shooter at this stage of his career. Hawes turned 22 and is still a decent prospect as a regular if he can stay healthy.

If they draft Cousins they're looking at a rotation with Hawes, Brand, Speights and the big rookie, and that would be a substantial change in anybody's game plan. If you think Brand has a future with the team, Favors would seem the better choice, since he can alternate between two positions and is a lot quicker than anyone else they have inside.

On the other hand, Evan Turner is a lot farther along in his development than Favors is.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

"By the way, Glen Davis' listed weight is 289. I'm sure he weighed 289 once upon a one time, but then he graduated from high school. My guess would be 315-320. If there was ever someone born to play left tackle, it's that guy."

He's a fat load alright, but he's still surprisingly light on his feet, with some pretty surprising athleticism for a guy that size. If he lost about 40-50 lbs, he might even be able to get up high enough to dunk.

Posted by: kalo_rama | June 18, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

"If they draft Cousins they're looking at a rotation with Hawes, Brand, Speights and the big rookie, and that would be a substantial change in anybody's game plan. If you think Brand has a future with the team, Favors would seem the better choice, since he can alternate between two positions and is a lot quicker than anyone else they have inside.

On the other hand, Evan Turner is a lot farther along in his development than Favors is.

Posted by: Samson151 | June 18, 2010 9:05 AM

Yeah, but they're already paying a small fortune to Iggy and Nocioni, who both play the same positions as Turner and are younger than Brand. And I'm pretty sure the unofficial NBA draft motto is: "If you're going to screw up, screw up Big."

Posted by: kalo_rama | June 18, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The original Baltimore Bullets title counts with the teams who have won a NBA championship.

When the NBL folded/merged with the current NBA teams like the Minneapolis Lakers became the current Lakers; the Rochester Royals are now the Sacramento Kings; the St Louis Hawks are now the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia Warriors whom won two titles are now the Golden State Warriors giving them three...

Point is the NBL titles count.

Now had our dearly departed Mr Abe Pollin really been an astute business man, instead of buying the Chicago Packers, he probably should have petitioned the League to revive the defunct Baltimore Bullets and today the Wizards would be credited with two NBA titles instead of one.

Every NBL champion except for the Bullets has their titles counted with a current NBA team because they migrated.

The current Wizard organization took the name Bullets out of deference to the old team, but a business foresight by Abe might have been cheaper than buying the Packers.

I think the League should reconsider and credit that title to organization anyway, but it probably cannot happen because the team is originally the Packers of the NBL.

Another odd phenomenon in Wizard/Bullet lure.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | June 18, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Nice game from Rasheed Wallace, but also a stark illustration of why he's long been one of the most frustrating players in the league. The guy has a post game that's nigh-unstoppable, but too often was content to just settle for jacking up long-bombs because it meant less work for him. He allowed himself to be a "path of least resistance" player, which is a shame for a guy with that much talent.

Coaches should cobble together the rare footage off 'Sheed working in the post and make it required viewing for young bigs, just to demonstrate the proper way to keep the ball high and out of the reach of ball-hawking guards at all times. It always mystifies me why so many big men fail to do that.

Posted by: kalo_rama | June 18, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

He's also still surprisingly effective at checking Pau considering his age and supposed bad back.

Posted by: divi3 | June 18, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jiji1 | June 19, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

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