In the lead up to the start of this year’s NBA Finals, the main storyline is how important it is for Kobe Bryant to win a championship without Shaquille O’Neil. It is important for Kobe’s legacy as one of the best basketball players of all time – and there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that it is important to Kobe himself.
Kobe, for his part, denies that this is an important motivating factor for him. Of course, he has to say this, anything else would be denying his teammates proper credit.
Others in the media have also stepped up to defend Kobe. This morning, one of the Mikes from ESPN’s Mike & Mike was downplaying the importance for Kobe to win a championship without Shaq. Inevitably, they brought up the fact that Magic never won a championship without Kareem, and Jordan never won without Pippen.
There is a serious problem with this comparison: Magic never forced Kareem to get traded, and Jordan never ran Pippen out of town. And as much as Kobe would like to deny it, Phil Jackson’s book makes it very clear that Kobe forced the Lakers to choose between him and Shaq. Why? Because he was tired of being a “sidekick.”
So there you have it, whether or not Kobe Bryant can win a championship post-Shaq is an issue precisely because Kobe made it an issue. The rest of his career (up until he wins a fourth ring) should and will be defined by it.
And nothing Kobe says can convince me that he doesn’t feel the same way. I take that back – there is one thing he could say that would make a difference. He could admit that he was wrong.