What Kobe still has left to prove
Ever since the 2004-2005 season, Kobe Bryant's greatness has been largely measured through a very singular prism: Can he win a title without Shaquille O'Neal? Well, last night ring ceremony provided a seriously blinged out reminder that the answer is "yes," seemingly ending the concept of Kobe's career being riddled with qualifiers (save perhaps besting Michael Jordan's mythical jewelry sextet).
Qualifying Bryant's greatness, however, has evolved into a national past time and old habits die hard. It will be difficult for many analysts and fans to go cold turkey. Thankfully for them, I've created a "To Do" list still in need of conquering before all doubts surrounding Kobe's accomplishments can truly be squashed, end of story.
Win a ring without Derek Fisher
The weight of Shaq is finally off Kobe's baq, but in the meantime, he's never won a title without the lil' fella. Hell, Kobe's never even reached the Finals without Fisher in tow. Technically speaking, for Kobe to truly reside on "Did it without ____" Street, he needs a ring absent of Fisher's help.
Thus, the solution may just be to reason with his longtime amigo. Explain the importance of cementing a bullet-proof resume for the ages. That the problem isn't Fisher, but rather the literal minded, unimaginative media. It's not that Kobe wants Fish to fake an injury during the playoffs. He just needs Fish to fake an injury during the playoffs. The King of Little Rock is such a selfless cat, he might just be willing to take one for 24's legacy. Dude gets a ring either way, right?
And if that doesn't work, I recommend the tired and true: A good old fashioned bribe. By any means necessary, as the saying goes.
It ain't just Fisher directly involved with all of Kobe's peaks. Phil Jackson has been there for every turn, allowing Doubting Thomas's to wonder whether credit should go to Kobe, or the guy behind the guy. Unfortunately for Kobe, there's VERY little incentive for Phil to vacate his coaching duties with the Lakers. Between his quest to leap frog a certain cigar aficionado and a squad so loaded that various wags often claim it runs itself, hard to picture Phil sitting this one out.
Unless, of course, he can't sit at all.
Wanna keep Phil at bay this season, Mamba? Just kidnap his throne chair. By definition, if PJ's using a throne chair, it means the hips can't handle a generic "commoner" chair, and even if PJ were willing/able to stand the entire game, new NBA rules put the kibosh on that strategy. Without the throne chair, does Phil have any other option other than handing the white board to Shaw, Jim Cleamons or Frank Hamblin and grabbing a beer at the arena watering hole? None that I can see.
Mind you, successfully hiding the throne chair over the course of 100+ games, home and away, is no walk in the park. We're talking a project on the scale of the Ocean's 11 heist. But Kobe's got the money, connections and steely obsessiveness to employ a top flight crew of merry pranksters. One of these days, he and PJ will look back on these hijinks and just laugh.
Win a ring with Jerome James in the rotation.
Why should Kobe's tests center solely around the removal of a linchpin? What say we make the guy work via a little addition, too? Back in 2006, I pegged Michael Olowokandi as the league's LVP. The cat who brings less to the table than any player in the league. Well, he's since washed out, so the next best way for Kobe to bring new meaning to the phrase "makes his teammates better" would involve the 2006 runner up Jerome James, the league's reigning "dead-weight" poster boy. (FYI, it's actually pretty easy for the Lakers to bring James into the fold. Adam Morrison for JJ, straight up. ESPN's trade machine loves it. Both are expiring deals. Kobe certainly has the juice to force a trade involving the team's 12th man. Done and done, should Bryant take the initiative.)
Win a ring in the same year he stars in a high quality documentary.
And no, "Kobe Doin' Work" doesn't cut the mustard. Particularly not when Kobe's flick is released in the same year as a docu flick starring his chief rival for "best player in the league" status. It doesn't help that "More than a Game" has garnered largely positive reviews from the critics- who tend to be west coast biased and likely wouldn't know either player from a hole in the wall, so don't complain about media favoritism- and even Mom, both a Lakers fan and a supporter of Kobe's 2008 MVP-ness. A cinematic challenge is being thrown down. Will Kobe answer the call?
Win a title in the same season he wins a Nobel Peace Prize.
Dude, Barack Obama's been President for barely ten months and he's already got one. You've had thirteen seasons in the NBA to make your mark for peace through basketball, and absolutely zero traction. Weak, Mamba. Weak.
Win a title while drunk for an entire season.
Make no mistake, people. I'm not talking about sneaking in a buzzed effort against some bottom feeder like Sacto or Milwaukee. I'm talking every quarter of every game from now until the rest of the season. And not just a little loopy. Tanked. Faced. "Fail a breathalyzer because you can't figure out how to put your mouth on the tube." Kobe's "Gatorade" jug: Nothing but beer. Those little Dixie cups he's handed while on the bench? Shots, brah! Kobe must remain absolutely hammered, but somehow also remain at the top of his game.
What would this truly "prove" about Kobe's skills? Honestly, I'm not really sure. But I do know this much. The reason I don't know is because Jordan never pulled it off. 'Nuff said. C'mon, Mamba! Channel your inner Tara Reid!
Win a title without "ER" on television.
Seriously, how long did that show overstay its welcome? Don't get me wrong. Clooney, Edwards and the gang enjoyed several seasons of high quality TV. But this marks Kobe's fourteenth season with the Lakers and ER was already in its third season when Mamba made his professional debut. How many surgeries and workplace relationships can we possibly watch? Nonetheless, Kobe has never reached the highest level in an era where fictitious people didn't check into the Fictitious County General Hospital, so "Must See TV's" longtime fixture must be given its proper due, as well as acknowledgment of the unconquered status. Still, the show's plug finally pulled during the same season Kobe got his "no Shaq" title feels symbolic. Kobe was happy to see that storyline retired. I was happy to see ER's storylines follow suit.
Win a title in the same season where he hemmed and hawed over a possible retirement before finally latching on with the Vikings.
Of course, if Kobe doesn't play in a manner that makes it evident that "he's just having fun out there," we're back at square one. But that goes without saying, right?
No easy task, my friends. Oprah Winfrey has a pretty good "in" with the folks running "Oh, The Oprah Magazine." O has quite the iron-fisted lock on that particular section of the mag. To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Stedman has ceded the cover just once, and that resulted in a photo op shared with Michelle Obama (who, for those not in the know, is often romantically linked with the reigning Nobel holder). It's a lofty goal, but if he can't conquer the publishing side of Harpo empire, what does having the planet's #1 selling jersey really mean?
(And no, landing the cover of Spanish Rolling Stone doesn't quite cut it. Should Pau Gasol ever enter the "all-time greats" conversation, same rules apply for him, too.)
Picture: Kobe Bryant holds a championship trophy. Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America
Picture: Derek Fisher raises his arms. Credit: Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America
Picture: Phil Jackson in his throne chair. Credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images