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Vince Thomas

From The Floor

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Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Kobe's hoops legacy secure with or without another ring

By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Jun 8 2009 2:05PM

This is a public service announcement for Kobe Bryant. He is two wins away from his FOURTH ring, not two wins away from his FIRST ring. The rhetoric -- for the five years since Shaq bounced from Hollywood to Hollywood South -- has been revisionist, ignorant and misguided. "Kobe's never won a ring without Shaq." That's what they've said. What they've meant is, "Kobe only won those rings because of Shaq. Those were coattail rings. His rings were Scottie Pippen rings, James Worthy rings." Excuse the juvenile retort, but -- shut up!

Some -- maybe even a lot -- of that rhetoric is motivated by Shaq Reverence. The big man was probably the greatest beast the league has ever seen -- especially when you consider that he, unlike Wilt, dominated first in the Era of Centers and, then, in the Era of Power Forwards/Big Men. Ultimately, it acts as a permanent blemish on Kobe's career. Dr. J didn't win his first NBA championship until he had Moses Malone (the 1983 MVP) and assassin Andrew Toney working with him. Yet he's a consensus all-time great. No doubt, the Doc revolutionized basketball during the '70s and that is the bulk of his legacy. But winning, these days, is the criteria by which we judge a dude's career. Was 1983 Moses Malone's championship?

Jerry West made it to the NBA Finals seven times before he won the sole championship of his career. That season, 1972, he shot the worst and averaged the fewest points in his career in the Playoffs. Yeah, they were up against the Boston Machine for most the '60s. That's what I'm saying.

Almost all of the great players that we acknowledge as the Greatest of the Greats, Elites of the Elites, have faced and endured career-blemishing stints. We don't give Kobe those allowances. The dude loses against a Boston team that was better and more equipped and -- because it's Kobe and the 21st century -- he's an Impostor, not an Immortal. Kobe wins three rings with Shaq and those are The Diesel's rings, not Kobe's.

Last week, Magic Johnson -- 6-foot-9 point guard of Kareem/Worthy'd five rings -- interviewed Bryant. He asked him if this prospective fourth ring would mean more, if he copped it without Diesel. Kobe, in all his arrogant splendor, said the "with-or-without Shaq" rhetoric was owned and promulgated by folks that didn't know what they were talking about. He meant media and fans. He was right.

He went on to say that Shaq couldn't have won those three rings without him. And, further, THEY (Shaq and Kobe) couldn't have won those rings without Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher and (hellooooooooo) Big Shot Rob Horry. Kobe seemed irritated, peeved and angry that, for the past five years, his three rings have been publicly repossessed and -- legacy wise -- stuffed in Shaq's trunk. Well, get angry Kobe, 'cause you're right, that whole notion is backward.

How about we start saying saying Shaq's rings are Kobe's rings? Ridiculous, right? The most accurate assessment of that three-year dynasty is that those three years of dominance were a Shaq AND Kobe thing.

I'll give you 2000.

The 2000 seasn was Kobe's first as an elite player. He was All-NBA second team and All-Defensive first team. 2000 Kobe was not 2009 Mo Williams. And although Diesel was an overwhelming, all-encompassing force that season, it was Kobe that had 25, 11 and 7 in that muddied Game 7 against the stacked Portland Trail Blazers. Yeah, stacked, as in Sheed, Pippen, Damon Stoudamire (young and productive), Steve Smith (savvy vet), Dale Davis, Detlef Shrempf, Arvydas Sabonis, Greg Anthony ... they were like 12 deep with solid-to-real good dudes. L.A. was Shaq-Kobe and the Really Good Back Singers. In that famous seventh game -- when the Blazers just seemed like the deeper, better team -- barely-legal Kobe created the lasting image of the series, the Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop. Shaq played 47 minutes and managed a pedestrian (Shaq standards) 18-9 that game.

For the next two championships, Shaq and Kobe were considered the two best players in the league. How is this lost on history?

The thinking was, "It's not fair: The Lakers have THE BEST TWO PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE, how are we to compete?" Think about that for a moment. The Lakers had the best man in the paint and the best man on the perimeter. Have we forgotten that "the best cat on the perimeter" was Kobe Bryant? It seems that way.

For the next two years -- seasons in which the Lakers won rings -- Shaq and Kobe scored about the same. And, if you were actually watching basketball, you saw that Kobe had the responsibility of facilitating the triangle offense AND being the best perimeter defender in the league. There was definitely an aesthetic and psychological effect that Diesel had on competition. Opposing teams saw Shaq getting ready to jump center and sighed, maybe dry-cried. They knew they didn't have a big man even remotely worthy of competing with Shaq. But once the game got tight and Shaq's game retreated, guess who L.A. went to? Kobe didn't get his clutch reputation from his 2004-2007 Post-Shaq/Pre-Gasol Days of early exits in the Playoffs. Kobe got his clutch-rep from those Shaq Days wins when Shaq retreated behind Kobe's clutch baskets.

Shaq rings? OK. If you say so.

Let's stop the dumb rhetoric here and now. Kobe is a Great of the Greats and Elite of the Elite, just like the big dude. He dropped 81 in a game. He's been to six Finals and won three (more than the Logo). He's been the consensus best player for about six years.

These next two to five games have nothing to do with it. Homeboy is legendary.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.

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