The Incredible Life and Trying Basketball Times of Kobe Bryant, Part 1

Is he the best ever? As Bryant heals from yet another injury, it’s a good time to examine the controversial legacy of a true NBA legend.

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Kobe Bryant, Dec. 14, 2013, Charlotte, N.C.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"We've learned Kobe Bryant has been asked to run the Federal Reserve. The feeling is, he can do more with three quarters than most of us can do with a whole dollar." —Peter Vescey, the New York Post

What are the makings of a titan? In Greek mythology, a titan is an immortal deity of great strength. Although their kind were eventually overthrown by the Olympians, individuals with seemingly celestial talent are occasionally born from the flesh of man. With the 1984 arrival of Michael Jeffrey Jordan, the National Basketball Association witnessed what appeared to be a celestial anomaly like no other.

At the time of his second and final retirement in 1999, Michael Jordan left several "just like Mike"s in his wake. But none could compare. Vince Carter's insane athleticism and North Carolina Tar Heel pedigree reminded many of MJ, as did Jerry Stackhouse's competitive fire and Tracy McGrady's explosive scoring ability. With each year there were whispers of the coming of the "Next One," yet each of the aforementioned shooting guards fell short in one attribute or another.

Some possessed Jordan's penchant for scoring, but not his stalwart defensive effort. Others were as explosive athletically (more so, in the case of Vince Carter), but did not have his indomitable will. Some, as was the case with Harold "Baby Jordan" Minor, were crushed for even being jokingly compared to him. 

Let it not go unsaid that Kobe Bryant is at least the second-best shooting guard of all time, with MJ being the clear choice for No. 1. There are even those who would dare say that, skill for skill, Kobe Bryant is the better of the two. Like the titan Prometheus of Greek mythology, Bryant is alleged to have stolen fire from one who sits at the zenith of basketball's Mount Olympus, and is accused of using it to ignite the competitive fire deep in the belly of mere mortals.

What is it about Kobe Bryant that has allowed him to will himself into this conversation of greatest player ever?

First Quarter

Competition has been the very soil that has nurtured Kobe Bryant. The son of former professional basketball player and head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks Joe "Bean" Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant, young Kobe had a fire that was apparent at a very early age. As a small child, Bryant lived in Italy, and his grandfather would tape NBA basketball games and send them to the child. Bryant would study them ardently. As a four-year starter on the varsity basketball team at Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School, Bryant would grow into an all-time great high school basketball player, averaging 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.8 steals as a senior. He would lead the Aces to a 31-3 record and their first Pennsylvania State Championship in the school's 53-year history.

Of course, McDonald's All-American accolades were soon to follow. Even then, his attributes were being scouted and admired by the very best in the business. In the Sports Illustrated article "Fire Inside," writer Chris Ballard recounts a 1996 pre-draft workout at Inglewood High School gym. In a scene that could barely be fathomed by most high school players, Jerry West was in the building to watch Kobe play retired Los Angeles Lakers defensive stopper Michael Cooper one on one. According to eyewitness accounts, Coop got dragged all over the court.

"It was like Cooper was mesmerized by him," said Raymond Ridder, now the Golden State Warriors' executive director of public relations. After 10 minutes, West stood up. "That's it, I've seen enough," Ridder remembers West saying. "He's better than anyone we've got on the team right now. Let's go."