As it stands now, Kobe Bryant has five NBA championship rings. If his L.A. Lakers were to win it all again this upcoming season, that would give Kobe the illustrious sixth ring and fuel another round of Michael Jordan comparisons. And while Kobe has always dealt with critics saying he’ll never live up to Jordan’s standard, a sixth title puts him in serious consideration to be recognized as equal to — or better than — the man they call “G.O.A.T.”
After mounting injuries (Kobe is coming off knee surgery) and fatigue following three straight runs to the NBA Finals, on paper the biggest thing standing in the way of a Lakers three-peat is the three-headed monster in Miami. But if Kobe were to lead his team to a championship by beating the Heat, that would give No. 24 something to put on his resume that No. 23 doesn’t have.
Jordan never met a team in the Finals that his Chicago Bulls weren’t expected to beat. But the 2010-11 Miami squad — led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — already has experts predicting they’ll win 70-plus games this season. They have two of the top three players in the League, and a Top-5 big man in Bosh. Going into a hypothetical Finals series against the Lakers, you can see why a lot of people would make Miami the favorite, and the two-time defending champion Lakers the underdog.
Kobe is an all-time great no matter what happens next season or any season from now on, but if he were actually able to beat a team that Jeff Van Gundy said will surpass the Bulls’ NBA record for the best regular season record ever to complete a three-peat and win ring No. 6, he’d put himself on another level.
A level that may be even higher than Jordan.
I would say the best team Jordan ever played against in the Finals was in 1993, when he played league MVP Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. But even Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle as a “Big Three” don’t quite matchup talent-wise with LeBron, Wade and Bosh. In fact, you could easily argue that the best team Jordan even beat in the Finals also doesn’t measure up to the ’10 Boston Celtics and their Hall of Fame trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, not to mention Top-5 point guard Rajon Rondo.
At the very least, you’d have to put Kobe at worst only a half-step behind Jordan should he take down such a loaded Miami team on his way to tying MJ’s mark for career championships. We all know that in the eyes of the public, especially those who watched MJ in his prime, Mike’s legacy can’t be touched for what he meant to the game of basketball. But as an individual player, could Kobe become the new standard by which all others are judged? Can Kobe now be compared favorably with the G.O.A.T.?