February 11, 2012
Kobe obsessed with winning title No. 6
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
It was during L.A.’s stop in Boston when Kobe Bryant uttered words that ultimately define what he’s all about, as if anyone needed any reminders.
Spend time around Bryant during a championship run and even the least savvy of basketball observers can’t help but be struck at his commitment to win.
Whether these Lakers, as currently constituted, are capable of winning another title is open for debate.
What can’t be questioned is Bryant’s drive for that signature sixth ring, a total that will place him among the game’s all-time greats.
Not since the days of Michael Jordan has the game seen anyone quite like Bryant, who offers no excuses following losses, cuts no corners in his pursuit of excellence.
Even though he’s not as explosive as he once was, he’ll still provide glimpses of a youthful time when Bryant would soar above the rim.
When it comes to cold-blooded assassins, at least from a basketball perspective, Bryant has no peer, maintaining that innate ability to destroy a team’s will only the likes of a Jordan, Larry Bird or an Isiah Thomas could manage.
The Lakers that come to Toronto on Sunday are far from a finished product, but anyone suggesting that this group is finished would be foolish.
Had the NBA not nixed that proposed deal that would have shipped Chris Paul from the league-run New Orleans Hornets, talk of the Lakers being championship-worthy would not exist.
There’s plenty of time for the Lakers to find their rhythm and options prior to next month’s trade deadline to address needs, but as long as Bryant is able to tie his shoes, no one should take the Lakers lightly.
When the Lakers arrived in Boston to play the Celtics, Bryant huddled with reporters and pretty much stated his objective to claim a sixth championship.
“I’m obsessed about it,’’ he said. “I’ve got to get it. It’s just one of those things. I can think of nothing else. As a kid growing up, that’s all I saw.
“I watched (Larry) Bird, I watched Magic (Johnson) and I watched Jordan win multiple titles. You just kind of grow up saying this is how it should be. This is what I must do. I want another one.”
Days earlier in his hometown of Philadelphia, where Bryant would pass former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, the only number Bryant would talk about was the No. 6, as in a sixth title.
The 81-point night against the Raptors, the many buzzer-beaters, the many daggers he’s delivered over the years, it’s of little significance for Bryant, whose sole mandate is to win a championship.
It’s why he had no reaction to a tweet following his record-achieving moment against the Sixers by O’Neal, who said Bryant was the greatest Laker of all time.
The two haven’t exactly been on the best of terms and it’s always difficult to discern when O’Neal is being playful or genuine.
It says a lot about Bryant’s appreciation for the game and the players whom he respects when informed of Bird’s quote that Larry Legend would rather have Bryant as a teammate than LeBron James.
“It means the world to me because I looked up to him and his work ethic,” Bryant told reporters in Boston. “I always viewed him as being the staple of a blue-collar player that’s been blessed with a great deal of talent. To hear him have that kind of praise for me means a lot.”
Like Bird, Bryant plays through pain and would rather destroy an opponent than offer some pre-game chest bump.
There’s a theory floating around the NBA that time is beginning to catch up with Bryant.
This decade, Bryant’s Lakers have played in seven NBA championships, a run that is not conducive to off-season rest.
While 33, in many ways Bryant is closer to 40 in terms of basketball age when one considers the minutes he has played during his career and the injuries he’s been forced to endure.
“That’s what I hear,” he said. “Father Time will eventually catch up.
“It’s not going to catch up this year. Maybe it will be next year. Maybe it will be the year after that. That’s the kind of challenge I enjoy going through.”
While anything is possible, it’s almost impossible to see Bryant playing in another uniform, which is why there’ll be a sense of urgency to win a title this year or at worse make a move that puts L.A. into a championship position.
Had Pau Gasol not been acquired in 2008 from Memphis, a move that directly led to two titles, perhaps Bryant’s frustration would have been manifested in a deal.
Following their championship three-peat to begin the decade, the Lakers fell on tough times, prompting Bryant to openly question the team’s direction and pine for a trade.
Change may yet unfold this season, but Bryant’s stated obsession for a sixth title will never waver. It’s why Bryant remains in a class by himself and it’s why a strong will always compensates for any decline in athleticism, real or imagined.