Game Time: Kobe Bryant: One Down, One To Go (And Neither of Them Are You, LeBron)

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You, Senator, are no Michael Jordan
"I've got one more than Shaq." -- Kobe Bryant

The accolades would seem to indicate that respect has not been an issue for Kobe Bryant -- the respect of fans, the respect of his peers, the respect of the media.

In his career, Kobe Bryant has been selected to the All-Star Game twelve times. He has been named All-NBA First Team eight times. He's gotten it done at both ends of the floor, winning two scoring titles and garnering first team All-Defensive honors eight times. He's been named league MVP once (2008) and in his prime seasons (age 28+) when Kobe didn't win the regular season MVP, he responded in each of those two seasons by winning the NBA Finals MVP.

The latest honor came last night on the heels of an 83-79 Laker win in Game 7 of the NBA Finals that was equal parts heart-pounding and hideous.


Further, in the last two seasons, Kobe had to listen to virtually everyone anoint LeBron James as the Chosen One, including the media who not only handed LeBron a second-consecutive regular-season MVP Award in overwhelming fashion but also insultingly allowed the league's weak sisters' chase for James' services for the next half decade to overshadow the chase for something that players who are in actuality the most valuable go get -- the NBA Championship.

In some sense, it would seem Kobe's two NBA Finals MVP awards are a direct response to a basketball world quick to turn the page on the only player of this decade who can truly stake a claim to 2000-2010 as his era (Bryant), a direct response to everyone wanting to fast forward to the LeBron Era because...well, LeBron is spectacular, especially from November till May.

But this is not about LeBron. Not for Kobe, it isn't. If you peel back the layers of the onion that is Kobe Bryant's career, his obsession is with two people -- Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal, the former being the benchmark that he has been bred to surpass from the time he was balling for Lower Merion High School near Philadelphia, and the latter being the source of the shadow that he has spent the better part of his adult years trying to escape.

I've always thought that we find out the most about a person -- who they are, what they are about -- at one of two times: one, when they think that no one is watching; and two, when they are answering questions in times heightened by raw emotion (love, hatred, death). When Kobe Bryant was asked what last night's championship win meant to him, he answered immediately, decisively, and with ZERO hint of a smile -- "I've got one more than Shaq."

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Big Brother's not watching
It would be interesting to know if Shaquille O'Neal even cares. The Shaq-Kobe relationship has always had a big brother-little brother dynamic to it, in both physical stature and the respective treatment of the rivalry -- Shaq being the big brother making calculated, but playful comments ("Tell me how my ass tastes, Kobe!") and Kobe being the little brother who overreacts by running and telling mom (or forcing mom to trade his big brother to the Miami Heat). Shaq is largely viewed by fans as a big, playful kid; Kobe is viewed by fans as a single-minded prick.

There's nothing Kobe can do about that. As much as he wants to kiss his wife in the middle of the floor after winning the title and bring his young daughters to the post-game press conference, many will always see Kobe as a douche bag who happens to take over basketball games. Deep down, Kobe knows this. Hence, the 100 percent authentic answer of "What does this title mean to you?"

"I've got one more than Shaq."



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