Kobe Bryant considers Jerry West the greatest all-time Laker
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and most fans of the L.A. Times Lakers blog agree on one thing: the possibility that the Black Mamba wins his fifth NBA championship won't significantly enhance his playing legacy or his standing in the Lakers' organization. In a pre-Finals poll, 56% of voters deemed it too early to say whether a Lakers' title against the Boston Celtics would enhance Bryant's career, which is expected to last at least through the 2013-14 season. Meanwhile, 18% of voters believed a title against Boston would cast Bryant as the Lakers' all-time greatest player, 4% thought it would cement Bryant as the league's best player and 16% predicted Bryant would top both categories.
It's also not surprising to read the following exchange between Bryant and a reporter Saturday during the Lakers' media session. Bryant's apparent apathy both spoke to his insular focus on winning a ring sometime this week and camouflaging his obvious desire to be considered the best in all things basketball.
Reporter: If you don't beat the Boston Celtics, can you go down as the best Laker ever?
Reporter: Is it important to you to go down as the best Laker ever?
Reporter: Do you think you are?
There is much debate to this conversation. In a recent Sports Illustrated profile on Bryant, former Laker Michael Cooper told SI's Lee Jenkins that beating the Celtics in the Finals would bear great significance on Bryant's standing as a Laker, a feat only accomplished by various Lakers greats, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Cooper. "It's not about beating the Celtics in the regular season," Cooper said. "You have to beat them in the playoffs. That's when you become part of the club."
There was also disagreement over that ranking once Bryant surpassed West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. The Times' Bill Plaschke ranked Bryant third behind Johnson and West. ESPN's Michael Wilbon doesn't rank the players, but he lumped Bryant with Johnson, West, George Mikan, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and O'Neal as the Lakers' best all-time players. And West gave the honor to Bryant immediately after he surpassed his scoring record. And Bryant himself? Well, he passed the honor right back to the man who drafted him.
"In my opinion it's Jerry West because in terms of everything that he's done, as a player and then as a general manager," Bryant said. "He's responsible for managing here, he's responsible for Shaq, he's responsible for myself. He put the whole picture together and everything that he's done, to me he's the greatest."
That answer prompted a reporter to ask a followup: "Magic [Johnson] doesn't get the edge because he did beat the Celtics and Jerry West didn't?"
Said Bryant: "What is everybody's fascination with the Celtics in terms of going down in history -- it's a little weird to me. I think Jerry's body of work and the championships that he's been responsible for, just my opinion -- you can have your own opinion, it doesn't really matter to me. In my opinion I think Jerry West is."Well, you've heard Bryant's take. What's yours? The best comment will be featured in tomorrow's links post. Who is the all-time greatest Laker?
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has his shot challenged by Celtics defenders Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett (5) in the second half of Game 4 on Thursday night. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.