Michael Jordan owns six NBA championship rings and his statue stands outside the United Center. Magic Johnson could carry his five rings past his statue outside the Staples Center if he chose to do so.
Kobe Bryant doesn’t have a statue, which is why Thursday night’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals between his Lakers and archenemy Celtics is a prime opportunity for him to enhance his legacy further. Four NBA championships and a multitude of other team and individual honors has Bryant ticketed for eventual enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside greats such as Michael Jordan and Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.
But with a victory Thursday, Bryant would tie Johnson and sit one behind Jordan in the championship tally, begging the question of whether Bryant is reaching their heights as he chases their accomplishments. “It’s not at the front of his mind,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Wednesday in Los Angeles. “That’s not what the big issue is. It’s about his personality. It’s about winning. And I think, in retrospect, he’s going to see that at some point.”
Bryant’s personality — his reputation for driving teammates and stepping on opponents’ throats — is what several league observers agree most likens him to Jordan. “There’s only one Michael,” former Bulls assistant Johnny Bach said. “But Kobe is the closest we’ll see because of his attack mentality.”
Jackson says this attack mentality has extended to quiet moments for Bryant, who has shown awareness of his place among basketball immortals. “At one point (after) I got to the Lakers, I got a call from Jerry West, who was vice president and player personnel director,” Jackson said. “And he said, ‘I’d like to tell you I had a long conversation with Kobe and he wanted to know how both Elgin (Baylor) and I were capable of scoring close to 30 points or more a game at that level of basketball at that time.’ “And it was going to be so difficult for Kobe to score 20 points with ( Shaquille O’Neal) scoring the kind of points he was scoring at the time, which was probably scoring 29 or so a game. So at that point in his career — Kobe was 21 at that time — he was very concerned about his mortality and how history was going to look at him as a basketball player. At this time, I don’t think it’s in the back of his mind that he has to catch Magic or he has to catch Michael or anything else. He wants to win. It’s what the effort is worth for him to do what he has to go through to play this game.”