Volume 96, Issue 85
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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"I wanna be like Kobe"

Bell Tolls
Jordan Bell
Sports Editor

Los Angeles Lakers centre Shaquille O'Neal is seven feet of premium diesel fuel, but when it comes to who fuels the Lakers' dynasty, Kobe Bryant fills the tank.

To put it in valley girl terms, "Shaq is so 2002." Shaq was then; Kobe is now.

Celebrated Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly recently wrote a column praising Bryant, and probably to the ire of many, stated Bryant could quite possibly be a better overall player than Michael Jordan in his prime.

When I first read the column, I was livid. But after watching Kobe light up 13 consecutive teams with 35 points or more, not to mention the thunderous dunk on Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming, I questioned my entire ideology on the subject.

Bryant will forever be Robin to Jordan's Batman. "Air Jordan" arrived on the basketball landscape when everyone was searching for a hero and the NBA was searching for a saviour. The endearingly professional and charismatic Jordan imprinted a legacy in the minds and hearts of basketball fans across the globe.

Unfortunately, this unbridled passion for "His Airness" means Kobe's true greatness will never be appreciated – people will always find a way to bring him down to earth.

Bryant, however, has done something truly extraordinary this season. He has carried on his back a team devoid of anything remotely talented.

Rick Fox? A basketball bum more concerned with the lights and cameras in Hollywood than basketball.

Robert Horry? The invisible man until a buzzer-beating shot is needed.

Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen? Don't even get me started on this dude.

The Lakers were terrible during the early portion of the season. And although O'Neal, "The Big Aristotle," arrived back on the scene recently, it's been Kobe who brought the Lakers back from the dead with his inspired defense, unstoppable offensive prowess and zest for the game.

Furthermore, O'Neal no longer commands the same attention he once did. Whether it's due to a decreased motivation for the game (as Bill Walton and Sean Elliott recently said) or the league figuring out how to contain him, Shaq's numbers are down in every category.

Shaq is big. Shaq is dominating. Shaq is the ultimate presence. But Kobe is the go-to-guy, "the man" if you will. The Lakers fate rests with him.

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