Franchise Player: Kobe Bryant

For the past few weeks, I have been covering the NBA players that I felt deserved the title of franchise player.  In case you missed them, here is the list of players that made the cut:

If you would like to know what my guidelines were in determining what made a specific player eligible to bear the moniker, feel free to click here to get the list of requirements. Some of you might think that certain players are missing from this list and you would probably be right. There are a few players that failed to make the cut because they did not meet either one or a few of the requirements. I bet you're wondering who; let's break them down real quick:

-Brandon Roy: Roy is obviously worthy of all the accolades that he gets because he truly puts the Blazers franchise on his back. The problem with that though is that his back cannot support the weight of the franchise. Indeed, Brandon Roy has appeared in about 82% of his teams games throughout his NBA career. Consequently, he fails The Karl Malone test.

-Chris Bosh: Chris Bosh is such an amazing power forward that his game prompted me earlier in the season to write a feature on him title NBA's Best Kept Secret. He is a terrific power forward with a wide array of skills. Bosh was the toughest guy to keep off the list but he was lacking one thing that could place him in the group of franchise players: The Magic Johnson Provision. There are times where you forget that Bosh is actually on the court. Indeed, I don't feel as though his fingerprints are always all over the game. Let me put it this way, can you recall one signature Bosh playoff moment? Exactly. None. A player with stage presence shines bright, terrifies the fans of the opposing team and gives you at least one signature moment.

-Kevin Durant: As it stands right now, some people rate small forward Kevin Durant higher than Carmelo Anthony and believe that he will one day win the MVP award. I don't necessarily disagree with the logic; mind you we have yet to see Durant perform in the playoffs. Because he has yet to play a playoff game, he is ineligible for The Kobe Bryant Exception and he also gets an incomplete grade for the Magic Johnson Provision. Also, KD has only been selected to participate in one NBA All-Star game; hence he also fails The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Standard.

-Derrick Rose: Derrick Rose participated in his first ever NBA All-Star game this past February. Considering that he has only been selected to one ASG, he fails The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Standard.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, have a look at this list of Laker legends:
-Magic Johnson
-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
-Jerry West
-Elgin Baylor
-Kobe Bryant

Which name has no business being in that list? Give it some thought; done? Well that was a trick question. The players mentioned above are a group prestigious and highly accomplished NBA players. In other words, they are the greatest Lakers of all time. And yet, here's a fun fact that you might enjoy: Kobe Bryant still has some great years left in him. Indeed, if you put things in perspective, by the time the Black Mamba's career will be over, he will be one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Do you know what that means? Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to name a few; Kobe will walk amongst them. I won't even try to tease you or misdirect you; Mr. Bryant is a franchise player. However, the Mamba has been playing at such a high level for such a long time, that some people have grown accustomed to his greatness and now take it for granted. Cue in Jay-Z:

"All rhymers with Alzheimer's line up please,
All mamis with mind freeze please line up please,
All bloggers with comments, please, I come in peace,
Let's see if we can kill your amnesia by the time I leave [...]

Reminder, uh, reminder, uh
I got if you needed a reminder, uh
Reminder, uh, reminder, uh
I think I better give you a reminder, uh"

The Kobe Bryant Exception
Considering that this requirement is named after Kobe Bryant, I think we can pretty much give him this criteria right? Let me put it this way: if Michael Jordan goes to eat at his own restaurant, there is no way that he pays for his meal right? Or if Jay-Z gets bored tonight and decides to hit his own club, I couldn't possibly fathom the idea that he would have to wait in line and then pay a cover charge. Well it's the same principle here.

The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Standard
In the movie Training Day, Alonzo Harris (played by Denzel Washington) tells Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke) that if he does not cooperate with him, that his name will be mentioned on the six o'clock news as a highly decorated officer that was survived by his wife. That got me to thinking; perhaps we should stop listing individuals accolades at the end of a player's career or worse yet when he passes away. So let's pretend that Kobe Bryant wins the League MVP trophy and David Stern presents him with the award prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Staples Center:
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present your Los Angeles Lakers star with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. This player needs no introduction; he wears #24 for the purple and gold. He has been selected to participate in 12 NBA All-Star games, he has won the NBA All-Star game MVP three times, also he was named the 2007-08 League MVP and the 2008-09 NBA Finals MVP. Since 1998, your Lakers star has been selected every year to the All-NBA team (first, second or third team) and has only failed to appear on the All-NBA defensive team once during that time span. To all the people in attendance and the millions of fans watching around the world, I now present the award to  four time NBA champion Kobe Bryant; who eclipses the requirements needed to pass The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Standard."

The Karl Malone Rule
Much like Karl Malone, Kobe has managed to play at a very high level for the course of his career and also be durable. Kobe Bryant has played in 1,010 out of a possible 1,101 NBA games. That translates into a 91.7% participation rate. Sadly, once you realized that Kobe was going to qualify for The Karl Malone Rule, you immediately wondered if I was going to touch on their "thing". Well, who am I to disappoint the public? For those that didn't follow the NBA back in 2004, let me explain to you what I am referring to. Karl Malone had not yet officially retired but was in the stands at a Laker game where he and Vanessa Bryant (Kobe's wife) had this exchange:

Vanessa Bryant: What you hunting cowboy?

Karl Malone: I'm hunting for Mexican girls.

Is that how it really went down? I don't know for sure; but that's what was reported. Bryant saw it as Malone trying to hit on his wife and was not happy about it. It made a bit of a fuss in Los Angeles but it was eventually forgotten…..until today.

Nonetheless, Kobe Bryant has in fact been extremely durable during his career and passes the basketball Karl Malone Rule. The real life one probably involves women and a Maury paternity test.

The Magic Johnson Provision
When it comes to Kobe Bryant, there are several ways in which we could look at just how much stage presence he has. But I will focus on two components.

1. Signature moments
Every franchise player has at least one signature moment. The answer might differ from one person to another, but in my mind Kobe has two great signature moments; and wouldn't you believe it, they both occurred the same postseason run.

In the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers entered the fourth quarter of Game 7 down 71-58 against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Lakers made a huge run and ended up taking the lead late in the final period. With the game hanging in the balance (Lakers up 83-79, with 46.1 seconds left in the game), the Lakers put the ball in Kobe's hands and asked him to put the finishing touches on a phenomenal comeback. Bryant looked at Pippen, sized him up, crossed him from right to left, sped to the free throw line and lobbed a perfect alley oop to Shaquille O'Neal. Game, blouses.

II. Never fear, Kobe is here
With the Lakers leading the Pacers 2-1 in the 2000 NBA Finals, the stage was set for the Lakers to take a nearly insurmountable 3-1 series lead in Game 4. However, there was one problem: Shaquille O'Neal's 36 points, 21 rebounds and 2 blocks were sitting on the bench because he had just fouled out in overtime. Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers were about to tie up the series and get ready for a crucial Game 5. Unfortunately for the Pacers though, Kobe never got that memo. He scored eight points in overtime and sealed the game with a put back that put his squad up three points with five seconds left in the game. On the NBA's brightest and biggest stage, the kid performed.

2. 50 Cent Complex
 For those of you that are unfamiliar with 50 Cent; he is a Hip Hop artist that has made a living off of publicly attacking other artists that might have crossed him or implied something about him that he did not like. If you're an artist, the last thing you want to do is cross 50, because he will publicly embarrass you again and again. Don't believe me? Fiddy was able to get his hands on the sex tape of Rick Ross' baby mother (Ross called 50 Cent a monkey on a radio show), which he ended up putting on his website for all to see. Translation: do not cross 50. And as much as some people might not like to hear this; Kobe Bryant shares that same trait with 50 and Michael Jordan.

Jordan was ruthless whenever he felt as though someone disrespected him. He made sure to take you to school and then let you know about it after the game. Kobe Bryant is not the same level as Michael in this aspect but he is pretty damn close. A few years ago, Kobe would at times put aside team play in order to teach a lesson to his defenders. No one could stop Kobe; and yet every year we heard about this new guy that was a Kobe stopper. Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Ron Artest and Doug Christie to name a few.

Have a quick look at some of Kobe's best playoff scoring games:
May 4th, 2006 vs. Phoenix: 50 points, 20-35 FGs, 5-6 FTs (vs. Bell and Marion)
May 13th, 2001 @ Sacramento: 48 points, 15-29 FGs, 17-19 FTs (vs. Christie)
April 26th, 2007 vs. Phoenix: 45 points, 15-26 FGs, 13-13 FTs (vs. Bell and Marion)
May 11th, 2004 vs. San Antonio: 42 points, 15-27 FGs, 10-13 FTs (vs. Bowen)
May 6th, 2009 vs. Houston: 40 points 16-27 FGs, 6-7 FTs (vs. Battier and Artest)

Some of Kobe's best playoff performances have come against some of the fiercest defenders in the league. But then again, anyone can get hot for one game, so is it possible that Kobe just got hot in those games? Well let's examine that. Kobe's career playoff scoring average is 25.0 points per game; now let's look at his averages against these same guys in the playoffs
vs. Houston in Artest and Battier era: 27.4 PPG
vs. Sacramento in Christie era: 29.3 PPG
vs. San Antonio in Bruce Bowen era: 29.3 PPG
vs. Phoenix in Bell and Marion era: 29.9 PPG

Like I mentioned earlier, there are numerous ways to measure stage presence; but when a guy consistently brings his best against the best and spits in the face of those that cross him; can it get any better than that? Well in Kobe's case it can. This season, he has not had a ton of huge offensive explosions (seems like he's pacing himself for the playoffs), however he has balanced that out with his play in the clutch. Kobe's last second heroics are beyond ridiculous. Kobe Bryant is like a surgical rapper (think Eminem) that hops on a track and closes songs out on the last verse and leaves you completely dumbfounded. So if you think Kobe Bryant is good now, wait until the playoffs start ladies and gentlemen. Quick tangent: A few weeks ago, the Magic won at home against the Lakers in a game where Matt Barnes tried as best he could to get underneath Kobe's skin. If the Lakers and Magic meet in the NBA Finals this year, just make sure you keep note of that. I guarantee that the Mamba will have something in store for Barnes. Now with that being said, do I really need to convince you some more that Kobe Bryant is probably overqualified for The Magic Johnson Provision?

 The Diesel Test
Kobe Bryant is currently one of the best defensive players in the game and also one of the best closers in the history of the NBA. In addition, Kobe Bryant at age 31 still has several productive seasons left in his career. Taking those facts into account, you don't think that Mitch Kupchak and Jerry Buss are hoping that Kobe settles on the figure of $20 million? My thoughts exactly.

Here's the funny thing about my list of criteria: I honestly only noticed today, after writing about seven other franchise players that the players I used to illustrate every criteria have ties to the Los Angeles Lakers. Does it mean anything? Perhaps. But I felt compelled to mention it before someone else brought it to my attention.

At this point, I think Jay-Z's Reminder track is no longer necessary. We are no longer debating Kobe Bryant's merits as a franchise player; instead we should be talking about how the Black Mamba is one of the best franchise players of all time. Greatness is achieved with sustained excellence. Only current active players such as Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant can boast about how truly great they are. But the thing that sets Kobe apart right now is that he is still adding chapters to his legacy. The rest of the league just trembled just a bit….

A few quick comments about Kobe from some NBA fans.

Jon from Anaheim, CA: A man whose job is never done, the dude works harder than anyone in the league and has evolved his game to accommodate his aging body. There's a reason some players can play at such a high level for so long, and Kobe is a unique player whom recognizes that and makes the necessary adjustments to his game and workout. 

The thing about Kobe is he can do anything that's necessary, but due to the triangle it's not always needed or he doesn't get the opportunity to show off everything. Watch his passes at times, he has Magic Johnson eyes on the back of his head. More often than not his teammates won't catch those passes because they don't see it coming themselves. There's a reason Dwayne Wade, Carmelo and LeBron came out as better players after the Redeem Team won the gold: they had the chance to watch the work Kobe puts in first hand.

This is coming from a Shaq man that blamed all of the falling out in 2005 on #8's shoulders, however, through his dedication to the game and his unbelievable talent he's proven to me that he's the greatest player I will be able to witness with an adult state of mind.

Sean from Northern Arizona: Here is why I think Kobe is the best: 1. Dude wants the ball at the end of the game. He thrives on the pressure and uses it to his advantage. 2. He has adapted his game many many times just to make sure that his team wins. 3. He can run the triangle offense better then anyone ever has. 4. He will play better when he's hurt or sick. 5. He doesn't care what you think he will play you till you quit. 6. He is a winner.

Ron from Boston, MA: he is the best closer in the game right now and he has 4 rings to prove he is elite and more could come!

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