After Shaq’s departure, it was clear that Lakers ownership was all in on Bryant. Increasingly, his pedigree would be compared more and more to that of Michael Jordan. No longer was he simply mimicking Jordan’s scoring ability. Bryant was increasingly known as a lockdown defender and was named to the first of nine first-team NBA All-Defensive teams in 2000.
It was becoming increasingly clear that he was considered the second coming of His Airness, despite his assertions to the contrary. While Bryant would say he copied the games of all the great big guards who came before him, Jordan seemed to believe otherwise.
In a video promoting the game NBA 2K14, Jordan said he thought he could beat all the modern NBA superstars one-on-one, “other than Kobe Bryant, because he steals all of my moves.”
Despite his alleged role in the departure of O’Neal, Bryant would spend the better part of the next three years searching for a suitable Robin to his Batman. First it appeared as though versatile forward Lamar Odom was the clear choice, but he rarely played to his considerable talents.
The Zen master Phil Jackson would return to the Lakers amid great fanfare in the 2005-2006 season. In the meantime, O’Neal would win an NBA title alongside his new Robin, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat in 2006. Bryant and the Lakers would not enjoy much postseason success, but Bryant would set a franchise mark for most points scored in a game with 81 points versus the Toronto Raptors.
That number placed his performance second behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game for most points scored in a game. But it was glaringly apparent that, no matter how many points he scored, Bryant needed help to return to the pinnacle of the NBA.
With the acquisition of All-Star power forward Paul Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies late in the 2007-2008 season, the Lakers would return to the NBA Finals, only to be defeated in six games by the Boston Celtics.
After a full season with Gasol in the fold, and an increasingly productive Andrew Bynum gaining confidence on a nightly basis, Bryant and the the Lakers would win two NBA Finals championships in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, giving him one more championship than former teammate-turned-rival O’Neal.
It is at this point in his career that Bryant’s place in the hoops hierarchy was secured. He is easily among the top 10 best players in NBA history, perhaps even top five. But that wasn’t enough for Bryant. His competitive drive would not be satiated until another title was brought to Los Angeles.
Read more at theshadowleague.com.