Right now, Kobe Bryant is like a shark that smells blood in the water. He can sense it. He can taste it. And he’s never been hungier than right now.
He sees LeBron’s crown at the NBA’s pinnacle is getting tight on the king, and he wants to reclaim his post that he never really relinquished. He’s out for LeBron’s blood. Kobe feels Magic’s five titles in his grasp, and he wants to equal the greatest Laker champion ever. He’s out for Magic’s blood. He sees the Celtics in front of him, and he wants revenge. Kobe’s out for Boston’s blood. And yes, on the horizon, he can sense Michael’s six championships aren’t far away, and he wants to legitimize the Kobe-MJ conversation. He’s out for Jordan’s blood. Kobe Bryant doesn’t just want to be in the history books, he wants to be at the forefront of that history. He has blood lust right now.
And that shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us right now. This isn’t anything new for Kobe. He’s been out for blood since his high school days. Think about it. Kobe’s always wanted to be the best, and nothing else matter. While starring at Lower Merion, he had to have the best prom date – he took Brandy. After high school, he didn’t want to waste valuable years of fighting for NBA titles on playing a bunch of amateurs he’d dominate anyway, so Kobe forwent college to jump straight to the NBA. He wanted to compete against the best so he could become the best. There was no time for big man on campus; he wanted to be big man on the planet.
He knew he couldn’t get there in Charlotte, so protocol and manners be damned. He was looking out for No. 1, playing ruthless. So he refused to play for Charlotte … and got his wish, going to the Lakers in a trade. It was a cold, calculated move by Bryant. The first in many. He had one mission and one mission only: Be the best. So he did everything he could.
In 2001, already one title under his belt playing along Shaq, he found himself matched up against his home team. Kobe grew up in the Philadelphia area. His father played for the Sixers. Now it was time for the city’s favorite son to do his city proud, talk about how honored he was to be back home on the game’s grandest stage, discuss his love for Philadelphia while doing all in his power to be gracious to his home town while acknowledging that he was out to beat the Sixers anyway. Instead, the first words out of Kobe’s mouth when asked about returning home for the Finals, he very coldly, very flatly said nothing other than he wanted to rip the city’s heart out. And Stephen A. Smith has the audacity to call Philadelphia’s hatred toward Kobe inexplicable. Please, Stephen A.
Kobe wasn’t out to appease his hometown. He wasn’t out to make friends. He was out to win. And that’s what he did. He wanted Philadelphia’s blood. And he just kept wanting more, wanting to be the best.
After learning to win and establishing his greatness, Kobe knew he’d never be considered the best playing second fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal. So he caused a rift, went after the big man once he got halfway to Jordan’s six rings. He needed Shaq to leave if he really wanted to become the best. He needed to be the lead dog. He had to make the Lakers his team. So he went after Shaq, was out for blood.
And he slowly but surely refined his game. He scored 81 points, more than Jordan ever had. He won a long-overdo MVP. He led the league in scoring. He bashed him teammates to push management and the other Lakers to commit to winning, to really get on board with helping him achieve greatness, even demanding a trade at one point. He has always been pushing. And he keeps on pushing. Even when everyone seems to agree LeBron has been in the process of passing Kobe the past few, as LeBron took over as MVP last year, Bryant went out and did one better, winning his fourth championship, the first as the lead dog. And he’s back here again, with Magic and Michael and LeBron and the Celtics all on his radar.
He wants greatness more than anyone I’ve ever seen. His singlemindedness is incredible. Kobe will stop at nothing to reach his goals, spare no feelings if it means sacrificing his focus. And as easy as it is to hate him for that, it’s just as easy to admire it. I hate Kobe Bryant for it. And I also respect him as much as anyone because of it.
Last night was a perfect example. With the big, bad Celtics healthy and revived, a lot of people began to think the Celtics would return to glory, beat the Lakers for the second time in three years for the title. Yeah, the Lakers broke through last year, and Kobe proved he could lead his team to the mountain top, but he’d never beaten the Celtics in the Finals the way Magic had. He had never slayed the giant, the biggest rival, the only franchise that can claim more titles than Los Angeles. And the one time he had the chance, the Celtics hammered the Lakers into submission.
So what does he do last night? He comes out and makes a statement: 30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and a block. 10-22 from the field. 9-10 from the line. And an exclamation point three at the end just to make a point. He was the best player on the floor by a lot. He visibly had that little bit more than the great ones display. Kobe killed himself on defense, played nearly flawless on offense. Defenders couldn’t bother him, the past didn’t haunt him. Kobe went to the rack, inviting physical play. He hit contested shots, moved the ball around like a point guard, hit the glass hard. He could sense weakness in Boston’s game, he smelled blood. And he went after his prey, assassinating it with precision and ease.
Kobe is a cold-blooded killer. He always has been. And he’s in the process of making sure you never forget it.
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