15 June 2009

The Vindication of Kobe Bryant

"Our team just won the NBA title! Let's start a riot!"

Did people in Los Angeles really have to have that conversation last night? I digress...

Okay, so the Lakers won the NBA title last night. I can live an accept that because, let's face it, the Lakers were hands-down the best team in the league all year. I think we would have received the same result if we had the much-heralded Kobe-LeBron matchup we all wanted to see.

If you paid any attention to the post-game coverage or the talking heads today, all they seem to want to talk about is Kobe Bryant's "vindication" now that he has won a title without Shaq. One reporter even asked him about that last night, to which Bryant called "idiotic." While I agree with him, he cannot deny it, especially not now. Ever since their much publicized separation in the summer of 2003, Kobe has been plagued with not winning a title by himself. This was the case in 2004 against the Pistons and last year against the Celtics. Now that he finally has that title without Shaq, the press wants to vindicate him.

Like it or not, Kobe and Shaq will be forever linked. They won three titles together. In their prime, they were the most unstoppable force in the NBA. Jordan and Pippen were the same way in the 1990s. Bryant was going to win another title, it was a matter of when. But because of the feud between himself and Shaq, Bryant's quest for another title was always hampered by questions about their link. This title now shuts them all up. Kobe can (and should) consider this ring sweeter than the other three because he did it on his on (so to speak). He didn't ride another superstar's coattails to get there either (see Shaq & D-Wade, 2006).

But is Kobe Bryant vindicated? Still looming large over his reputation is the alleged sexual assult charge on a young girl in Eagle County, CO. Regardless of your opinion on the case, he took an enormous hit personally for that. He lost sponsors and money, not to menton the strain on his marriage which was immeasurable. Does winning a championship bring all that back? He still has endorsement deals. He still has the #1 selling NBA jersey. He's still making ridiculous amount of money in his contract. If Kobe Bryant is vindicated in anything, it's that he proved all those naysayers that said he couldn't win without Shaq wrong (including myself). No matter how you look at it, Kobe showed us what it takes to be a champion, and why he's one of the greatest in the game.

As for Phil Jackson, ten NBA titles comes with having coached two of the greatest to play the game. But great players are made from great coaches, and Jackson is definitely one of them. Even though he plays it cool and acts like it's not a big deal, he knows it is and I think he respects that. He has another year left on his contract, which I think he'll stay for, then call it quits. The Lakers will definitely be favored to win it all again next year, but either way, he'll go out on top. Hopefully, he won't have to field anymore questions about Kobe v. Shaq either.

That's my take...

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