Back on June 3, Brian wrote about a Land O' Lakers poll asking if Kobe Bryant needed to beat the Celtics for a title to be considered the G.L.O.A.T. In a surprising response, a whopping 71 percent of Laker fans said Kobe can't take the crown without downing the Greenies. Honestly, neither of us anticipated this specific criteria mattering so much to Lakers fans.
Not that Kobe as the G.L.O.A.T. was a given. For example, I noted back in January the tall order it could be for Kobe to pass Magic in the eyes of many. But I was referring to the emotional attachment many have towards Magic -- which reaches well beyond what he accomplished on the court -- as opposed to pure basketball credentials. Frankly, the idea Kobe's career could maintain its present course yet still fall short based on one omission never dawned on me or Brian.
Well, Kobe was asked about this topic during Saturday's practice, and his answer runs counter to the majority opinion. Check out the exchange:
Q. If you don't beat the Boston Celtics, can you go down as the best Laker ever?
Kobe Bryant: No.
Q. Is it important to you to go down as the best Laker ever?
Kobe Bryant: No.
Q. Do you think you are?
Kobe Bryant: No.
Q. Who is?
Kobe Bryant: In my opinion it's Jerry West because in terms of everything that he's done, as a player and then as a general manager. He's responsible for managing here, he's responsible for Shaq, he's responsible for myself. He put the whole picture together and everything that he's done, to me he's the greatest.
Q. Magic doesn't get the edge because he did beat the Celtics and Jerry West didn't?
Kobe Bryant: What is everybody's fascination with the Celtics in terms of going down in history as -- it's a little weird to me. I think Jerry's body of work and the championships that he's been responsible for, just my opinion -- you can have your own opinion, it doesn't really matter to me. In my opinion, I think Jerry West is.
To a certain degree, Kobe's statements should be treated with a grain of salt. I have no idea whether or not he truly considers himself the G.L.O.A.T. (a legit position, by the way), but I'm positive he'd never admit thinking so. Ditto the nugget about not caring if he goes down as the G.L.O.A.T. Frankly, I don't believe Kobe for a second, nor do I blame him for wanting the crown, but I understand exactly why he'd claim indifference.
No matter how humbly Kobe explains himself, there's no way to express a desire to leave icons dusted without experiencing backlash. It ain't worth the headache, so he's not touching the question.
Still, considering Kobe grew up a Laker fan and knows him some basketball history, his vote for West is certainly interesting. As he rightfully notes, there really is no "right" or "wrong." When choosing between indisputable greats, the tie-breakers inevitably turn subjective to some degree. I just couldn't help but be taken by Kobe dismissing the weight placed on winning at the Celtics' expense.
Does he have a point? Are people placing too much importance on this one specific aspect of his career?
Let's say the Lakers fail to repeat. In both cases, Andrew Bynum's health will have provided a legitimate piece of extenuating circumstances. Assuming Kobe continues to play better in this series than in 2008, snags another ring at some point and his career shakes out as staggeringly projected, has he done enough? Would his case be somehow stronger with slightly fewer overall credentials, but more against the Celtics? Again, it's largely subjective and all answers are ultimately defensible, but I'm curious to see if people feel differently after hearing Kobe voice an opinion.
Along these lines, can you not make the case for West, either? Does it have to Magic?
Posed the same question, Derek Fisher felt the only person truly qualified to evaluate Kobe's legacy is actually Kobe, but still spoke quite favorably on behalf of his longtime teammate:
"Four championships is quite a legacy, so I don't know how much effort needs to go towards expanding it... I don't know how many more notches he can go up."