#6. Kobe Bryant
Ht. / Wt.: 6'-6" / 220
Fun Fact: Kobe's owns a large collection of turnips naturally shaped like ABA legends.
Ah, the player people love to hate. I've been a Spurs fan for over 15 years, so I have had the torturous experience of watching Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in numerous playoff games. But I never hated Kobe Bryant. I strongly disliked Shaq and I hoped and prayed for the demise of Derek Fisher, but Kobe? To be blunt, he's too skilled of a player to hate.
And he killed the Spurs. Over and over and over again. Just off the top of my head?
The 2002 playoffs, game 4 in San Antonio. The Lakers led the series 2-1, with each team suffering home losses. The series and the NBA title felt up for grabs. The Spurs had an 8 point lead going into the fourth quarter. Being the Spurs, they quickly squandered the lead and the game was tied with under a minute to go. Kobe dribbles the ball off his foot and Derek Fisher scrambles to retrieve. DF shoots a pull up jumper that hits back iron. Kobe (outscored SA by himself in the fourth quarter; 12 to 10), from out of nowhere, outleaps David Robinson and Tim Duncan to grab the offensive rebound. He pogoes off the ground and lays the ball with his left hand. Like it was nothing. I don't even think either Spurs big man got off the ground again.
You know what I remember thinking? "Just FUCK it. He's just way, WAY better than anybody we got. And he wants it more."
Another game 4 comes to mind, this time in the 2004 playoffs. This time the Spurs were up 2-1 and the game was in LA. SA was up 10 points at half. Kobe scored 24 points in the second half (42 for the game) and LA cruised to an 8 point victory. He made numerous tough shots despite constantly going up against either Bowen or Ginobili. At what point he made a running left hander from outside the lane. Again, "Just FUCK it. He's too good."
See, I never understood this whole "Shaq is the most dominant player in the game." As a Spurs fan I was always WAY more scared of Kobe. He was seemingly always the guy who would kill us down the stretch. He was the guy breaking down the defense and putting the dagger in our hearts. He was the guy with the ball in his hand at money time.
Am I saying that Shaq cannot be the most dominant player in the game because he's never the primary option in the fourth quarter? Yeah, I am. Is that simple-minded? Yes. But it's certainly no more simple minded than dubbing Shaq MDPOAT because he dunks the ball a lot and has a pretty smile and a notoriously large wang. Which is the only justification I've ever heard.
Anyways. Kobe is still the same player that murdered the spurs repeatedly when it counted. He's an efficient scorer (1.37 PPFGA last year) who can beat you in a lot of different ways. He's also at least a good defender (though possibly not warranting his 1st team all NBA defense award). He'll play big minutes and take (and make) the big shot. He rebounds well for his position (6.0 PG) and is a good passer. And I hope the Spurs never, EVER (period) face him in the playoffs again.