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Robison: Kobe’s dominance says it all (Feb. 28)

By Matthew Robison | Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a 12-part series discussing the defining sportsman (or woman) of this century. In this installment, Matthew Robison argues for Kobe Bryant. Join the discussion on Twitter by using #DefiningSportsman.

In my book, in order to define an era athletes must display greatness throughout said era. To display greatness, athletes must win championships. No other player has displayed greatness and thus defined the 21st century better than Kobe Bryant.

Since 2000, no player in a team sport has won more championships than Kobe. He won three straight from 2000-02 with the Lakers. Those who liked to knock Kobe say he couldn’t win a championship without Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq went on to win another championship in 2006 with Dwyane Wade and the Heat.

But three years later Kobe did it again, repeating with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010. His five championships set him far apart from his contemporaries.

Tim Duncan has four championships. Shaq also has four. Wade has two. LeBron only has one. In other sports, none of team sports’ great champions have reached Kobe’s number of five. Derek Jeter has five championships, but only two of those came this century. Jimmie Johnson has five consecutive Cup championships. But team athletics pose a host of factors that make it much more difficult to win championships. For this century’s champions – in basketball or any other sport – Kobe is the proverbial measuring stick against which other champions must compare themselves.

Championships aside, Kobe’s entire body of work throughout his career simply adds to his monumental stature in athletic greatness.

Allow me to rattle off some of Kobe’s other accomplishments:

He has two Olympic gold medals. Twice he has earned the NBA Finals MVP. He’s won the NBA MVP award. He’s a 15-time NBA All-Star. Nine times he’s been selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive First-Team. As a rookie, he won the Slam Dunk Contest. He’s currently fifth all-time in scoring behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. That’s pretty good company. By the time his career is over, he could pass both Wilt and Jordan.

It’s easy to make an extensive argument for Kobe’s greatness. Sure, he’s played alongside other future Hall of Famers during his championship runs. Yes, Phil Jackson, perhaps the greatest NBA coach of all time, was also with the Lakers during that time. It should also be noted that Derek Fisher was on all five of those championship teams, as well. Although he was a clutch player on those teams, I think it’s safe to say his greatness doesn’t exactly match up with Kobe’s.

But Kobe’s leadership, lack of physical dominance and clutch play set him apart. As a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Kobe physically dominates no one. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of LeBron James. He doesn’t have the high-flying capabilities Michael Jordan had. Nor does he tower over defenders like Shaq or Duncan. But Kobe does everything it takes to win – and win he has.

All in all, Kobe’s done just about everything to prove his greatness on the basketball court. A worldwide phenomenon, the NBA is one of the most universally respected sports leagues and as the league’s best, he defines greatness in the NBA and therefore sports worldwide.

Is Kobe the greatest basketball player of all time? Certainly not. Will he be considered the defining athlete of the 21st century when people look back in 100 years? Probably not.

But as this century’s most prolific champion in major team sports he has defined greatness, and therefore sports, in the 21st century.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.