Kobe Bryant is to the NBA what Barry Bonds was to MLB.
The two figures are as polarizing as a Wollaston prism (thanks college physics).
Bryant's rape trial and subsequent settlement rub many people in the
same vein as Bond's steroid circus.
You either hate them or love them — there really isn't a middle ground.
I'm not a big fan, but there is no denying the skills Bryant possesses. Colin Cowherd, a nationally syndicated sports talk radio host for ESPN, says that watching Bryant's game is like watching Da Vinci create art or Gershwin make sound into words.
While I'm not a fan of the flowery rhetoric, his point is well taken.
The way No. 24 plays is as graceful, fluid and aesthetically pleasing as anyone who has ever played the game — that includes some guy named Jordan.
Bryant already has three NBA titles and if his Lakers win this season, he'll have matched "No. 23" with four titles in his first 12 seasons.
That's three more than Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutumbo and Tracy McGrady — combined.
He has two scoring titles and an MVP award as well.
More importantly though, he has positioned himself and his franchise for a New England Patriots-San Antonio Spurs-like run over the next few years.
A year ago, Bryant went on a media fling, telling anyone who would listen, on radio and television, that he wanted to be traded from the Lakers.
He chastised management for not giving him the pieces to win the title he desperately craves.
He called out some of the younger players —such as center Andrew Bynum — on his team on a cell phone video and generally created havoc for one of the most
successful franchises the NBA has to offer.
In his first game at the Staples Center this season, Bryant was booed for being a selfish, arrogant and self-centered jerk who ran "the Big Aristotle" — Shaquille O'Neal — away.
Then, in what might be the biggest example of sports larceny since the Baltimore Orioles sent Curt Schilling, Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch to the Astros for Glenn Davis, the Lakers secured the services of Pau Gasol.
Gasol, an All-Star forward who started his career with the Memphis Grizzlies, has the perfect skill-set for Phil Jackson's triangle-offense. He's an excellent passer and shooter from within 15 feet, and he's a decent rebounder.
It seems that Kobe, who is in his prime, is fully armed. Gasol, 28, and an
ultra-talented Lamar Odom, 29, can be Bryant's No. 2 and No. 3, respectively for years to come.
Reserves like Ronnie Turiaf, 25, Luke Walton, 28, Sasha Vujacic, 24, Jordan Farmar, 22, Bynum, 20 and Vladimir Radmanovic, 28, haven't yet entered the prime of their careers. Each one is getting better and is signed for the next two-three seasons.
Eighty-eight games after being booed by home fans, Bryant now hears chants of
"MVP, MVP" ring out each time he touches the ball.
Hate on Kobe all you want.
But realize that he is in the perfect position to ascend to the top of the all-time lists — right beside No. 23.