What's at stake for Kobe?

If Bryant leads L.A. to a title this season, it could significantly alter his legacy

Originally Published: May 9, 2012
By Chris Broussard | ESPN Insider
BryantStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA third title in four seasons would make Kobe Bryant a part of his second dynasty.

One of the reasons Kobe Bryant wanted so badly to win his fifth championship was to surpass his sometimes teammate/sometimes nemesis, Shaquille O'Neal, owner of four rings. And one of the reasons Bryant wants so badly to win his sixth title this season is to equal Michael Jordan, his idol and all-time inspiration.

Tuesday night that goal took a beating as a lackadaisical Los Angeles Lakers team couldn't close out the Denver Nuggets, losing 102-99. Despite Bryant's 43-point effort that nearly beat the Nuggets single-handedly, the Lakers lost but they remain up 3-2 as the series heads back to Denver.

But even if Bryant leads these Lakers to the championship, he'll never be Jordan's equal.

That's no slight on Bryant; nobody is Jordan's equal.

Among the things Jordan has over Bryant (and everyone): He won six titles, was the MVP every time and never lost in the Finals. He's the all-time leader in career points per game (30.12) and led the league in scoring 10 straight times in which he played a full season. And as a 2, he dominated an era of outstanding big men without a great big man of his own.

So Bryant's legacy, relative to Jordan, is set. Even if he wins six rings, or even seven, few hard-core basketball heads would dare put him ahead of Jordan. Win or lose this season, Bryant will go down as a top-10 player of all-time, and the second best shooting guard ever, right behind Jordan and just ahead of Jerry West.

That said, Bryant will have some things over Jordan. For one, longevity, or better yet, the length of his prime. Bryant's streak of excellence is virtually unmatched. While he's only 33 years old, he's in his 16th full NBA season, including two lockout-shortened ones. Plus, he's played the equivalent of more than two and a half seasons in playoff games.