Home > Uncategorized > There Is No Debate On Kobe — He Will Be LA’s Best

There Is No Debate On Kobe — He Will Be LA’s Best

Let me start this with some shameless bragging. I’ve met Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

OK, not really. I met Magic Johnson (photographic evidence after the jump). Kobe Bryant bumped into my left arm in a knife and sword store at a mall in Santa Ana, Calif. But for that slight second, there was no doubt that we were connected.

I met Magic when I was six years old while he was still on the Lakers, before the HIV diagnosis. I got to go into the team’s locker room after a game against the Utah Jazz and will always remember two things about that visit:

  1. Seeing Vlade Divac scared the hell out of me. I had never seen a man so tall in person. He leaned down to greet me outside the locker room and I just gazed at him with wide eyes and a wider mouth. I think he said “Hello”, but I don’t remember. I was too busy wishing this giant would just go away and not eat me.
  2. As I waited for my photo-op with Magic, I watched him talk to some reporters very casually. And very, very naked. I spent a few minutes just staring at his dangling member. What is THAT??? Again, I’m 6. I don’t really have a good idea of what a penis is. But I remember seeing Magic’s and seriously, he could give Greg Oden a run for his money. When I came out of the locker room, my mother and my aunt, who set up my meeting with the Lakers, asked me how it went. I gleefully declared, “Mom, I saw Magic Johnson naked!” I think I have matured since.

Magic and me, circa 1990. As you can tell by the knuckles on my clasped hands, I was a little excited for this

Yes, meeting Magic was a cherished childhood memory. I grew up with Magic and the Showtime offense. There is no doubt that he is the most beloved Laker. And for the time being, he is the best Los Angeles Lakers player ever. But Kobe will pass him and every other Laker great soon. I’m writing this mostly in response to this column. I love Bill Plaschke. I love how he concentrates on the human-interest side of sports. But in his argument that Kobe Bryant is the third-best Lakers player, he couldn’t be more wrong.

Magic Johnson has done tremendous things as a business man in many tough Los Angeles neighborhoods. He is the most important public figure in AIDS awareness and showed many people that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence.

Jerry West has a great mind for basketball personnel and knows how to construct a championship team as a general manager. He’s the reason why Kobe can call himself a Laker.

This is going to sound cold, but those accomplishments didn’t do anything to strengthen their profiles as an active player. Kobe will never be a general manager. His silhouette won’t be the league’s logo. He will never mean as much in the fabric of Los Angeles as Magic. But just look at these lists! Take out the career percentage categories, there are only two of the other 17 career stats in which Kobe won’t end up in the Lakers’ top 3: Offensive rebounds and blocks.

Everything else — yes, even turnovers and personal fouls — he will be either the Lakers’ greatest contributor or right among them.

Magic has five titles. Kareem won five as a Laker. Kobe is an owner of four championships, but he is only 31 years old. And please don’t say, “Kobe got those championships because he was playing with Shaq for three of them.” The Lakers wouldn’t have even reached the finals in two of those seasons if not for Bryant’s Game 7 performances in the 2000 and 2002 conference finals.

Since Bryant has patterned most everything in his pro career after Michael Jordan, including his voice, you should know that Jordan retired from the Bulls for good at 35. That means Kobe has at least five more chances at an NBA title, one of which I am certain he will fulfill this June. He has plenty of time to get another MVP, more All-Star appearances, more scoring titles and spots on the league’s defensive first team. I bet he is on pace to end his career, which will be spent entirely with the Lakers, as the franchise’s leader in victories. I need to add that up.

Again, he’s not the most meaningful player in franchise history. But at the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, when you ask the simple question of best player in Los Angeles Lakers history, he will be the answer.

P.S. Oh, and Phil? He is more synonymous with the Bulls, but yeah, he is also the Lakers’ best coach ever. Go take a look at the teams that Pat Riley “led” to championships in the mid-80s. Then take a gander at the Lakers’ title team in 2000 with Jackson as coach. There is no debate to be had there either.

  1. February 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    I think when everyone looks at this argument, right away they say “no way” and go to Magic.

    But after thinking about it for awhile, I still don’t know. There are some interesting cases on both sides with Magic and Kobe (I’m only leaving Kareem out of the equation because I just read Bill Simmon’s Book of Basketball and he bashes him at will).

    Here are a couple of things that come to my mind when comparing the two:

    1. After Kobe got his 4th title while being the best player on his team, he entered special status and can now be considered among the game’s best. Magic always had Kareem and Worthy so you can never say he won it all by being by far the best player on his team.

    Advantage: Kobe.

    2. Teammates liked Magic but the same can’t be said for Kobe. This is important. Magic made everyone around him better. Kobe obviously doesn’t do that. Imagine if Kobe was like that and made Lamar Odom average 18-10-7 or something. It would never happen. Magic made Worthy a HOF, no question and maybe even bails out Kareem as a top 5 player ever.

    Advantage: Magic.

    3. Kobe is the closest thing we’ve seen to Jordan (but still not even close) and one of only 3 that rival his late game, last shot heroics (Bird is the other). While Magic was undoubtedly clutch too, we can’t forget that he wasn’t always. The 1984 Finals are pretty putrid if you go back and watch them. Kobe has always wanted the ball and the last shot. And you point out his great game 7 performances even when he had Shaq that led the Lakers to titles. Magic isn’t on Kobe’s level when it comes to that. Kobe has the hunger and wants the ball for that last shot like Michael did. While he’s no Jordan, at least he thinks he is.

    Advantage: Kobe.

    4. Magic with a poor supporting cast greatly surpasses Kobe with no supporting cast. Magic can take Divac, Perkins, an aging Worthy and a just-past-his-prime self to the Finals in 1991. Kobe just jacks up shot after shot in 2006, scores 81 points in a game, leads the league in scoring while his team wins 45 games and gets bounced by the Suns as Nash proves he is the best player in the league in Kobe’s face. Magic probably could have taken that team to the Finals.

    Advantage: Magic.

    Maybe I made some of the same points over again but right now, it’s hard to tell with this argument. But Kobe has many more years to surpass Magic but at the same time he could easily fall behind him if he imitates the era when Shaq left him.

    Who knows what will happen? All we know is everyone ever would rather play with Magic instead of Kobe and that has to count for something, but not everything.

    Anyway, you’re the man, I’ve been reading for awhile now and don’t know why I decided now was the right time to post.

    Andrew Kennedy

    • spokes310
      February 8, 2010 at 11:25 am

      First of all, thanks for reading, Andrew. I really appreciate it.

      And thanks for the detailed comment. I love these conversations and I agree with many of the things you said. It’s a difficult argument to persuade anyone because Magic did so much for the game and his position (even though we know he didn’t have one position). But I think if you look at what Kobe has done and project what he will do in the next 5+ seasons, I think he will end up surpassing Magic.

      I disagree with a couple of things: I don’t think Magic could have taken Kobe’s post-Shaq, pre-Gasol teams to the finals. Look at that roster in 2004-05. They had Kobe, Odom and maybe you can include a young Caron Butler. But that’s it! The rest of that team was wretched. Trust me, it was tough to root for that team every night. I doubt even Magic could have taken that past the first round. The fact that Phil Jackson somehow got basically the same team, except for the “addition” of Kwame Brown and the loss of Caron Butler, to win 45 games and to the playoffs the following year is another point as to why he’s the Lakers’ greatest coach.

      Also, there’s no doubt that Magic made players such as Worthy, Michael Cooper and Byron Scott better. Kobe doesn’t elevate his team THAT much, but Lamar Odom is a bad example. The only one holding Lamar Odom back is Lamar Odom. He could average 18-10-7. He has all the talent in the world. He could be one of this league’s top-10 players. But he just doesn’t give enough effort every night. So, he’s basically a sixth man on this Lakers’ team. He did the same with the Clippers (probably because he was too busy toking up before games) and did the same with the Heat. Look at what he did on Friday night against Portland. And Kobe Bryant didn’t play in that game.
      Kobe is making Gasol better, but we already knew he’s a very good player before landing in LA. Who knows what Worthy would have done without Magic? It’s hard to count his final few seasons, when Magic had retired. Shortly after that, Worthy’s body broke down on him.

      But hey, it’s a good debate. Thanks again, man. I hope you keep reading and I hope everything is going well for you.

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