NBA Legacy Discussion Goes Into High Gear

Published on: 18th June, 2010

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New York – Everyone seems to be hooked on this notion of legacies, today. The day after the Los Angeles Lakers took Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals from the Boston Celtics to win the franchise’s 16th championship, the L Word became the big topic of discussion. What makes legacy discussions fun are in the way it forces us not only to look at what has already occurred but what conceivably can happen in the future.

People in tv and radio land want to talk about Kobe Bryant’s legacy. What is his position in the pantheon of NBA history after earning the fifth championship of his career? Then, there is Phil Jackson’s place in history as the former New York Knick, Chicago Bull, and ongoing Zen Master created even more space last night between himself and Red Auerbach as the sport’s winningest head coach.

Of course, no discussion of NBA legacies could take place without mentioning the franchise with the greatest of legacies, the game’s most storied franchise, the Celtics. Where exactly do they go from here, with an aging roster, expiring contracts, and rumors of a departing head coach? Nothing lasts forever and these Celtics are about to become a perfect example of that sad fact.

So, now the questions begin. Is Bryant moving steadily into the conversation of who is the greatest player of all-time? He is only 31 with several years more to go in his career. With five championships, he is just one behind Michael Jordan, the player he’s been most compared to.

In the NBA, it’s always been about championships and not just individual talent.  Bryant’s talent and now, his spectacular championship pedigree make a convincing argument that he’s clearly one of the handful of greatest players who’ve ever played the game. The question is, how great?

Is he even the greatest Laker? If you were starting a team, would you take Kobe Bryant over Magic Johnson, Kareem or Wilt? Would you take him over Jerry West or Elgin Baylor? In their own eras, those players were just as dominant as Bryant is today, maybe more so. But, with last night’s win, Bryant has now tied Johnson for most championships and arguably, given his relative youth and good health, will have further opportunities to surpass the Magic Man.

Then, there’s Jackson, who has firmly established himself as the greatest winner from the coach’s position in NBA history. But, is he the greatest coach or just lucky enough to have spent half of his coaching career with the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen while the other half was spent guiding Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant near Hollywood?

Another question basketball fans are asking today is whether Jackson, his current contract now expired, will return to the Lakers for another run. Soon to be 65 and living with an assortment of chronic aches and pains, he is seriously considering leaving the game with this championship attained. It’s always storybook to leave on top and Jackson, with his two in a row, is sitting in a perch high above all other coaches in the league.

Perhaps, and this would be a surprise but not a shock, he’ll decide to look for a new challenge with another team and another owner willing to pay him more money than Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss has been indicating a willingness to pay. It’s been regularly argued among fans of basketball that Jackson hasn’t had to coach a bad team lacking in superstars.  If he decides to coach somewhere other than Los Angeles next season, he may just find out how the other half lives.

Many of the Celtics players were in tears after last night’s loss. Certainly understandable after a long, nine-month journey together, begun in training camp back in September 2009, only to see it culminate in a game 7 loss to their hated rivals. But, those tears also may have been flowing from the realization these players, including the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will never again play together. Allen is now a free agent and it remains highly doubtful the Celtics will offer the 34-year old shooting guard a new contract. Garnett  still has two years remaining on a very expensive deal signed three years ago but he may have been crying because he realizes this was probably his last best chance at an NBA championship before the inevitable breaking down of the Celtics roster takes place.

For the Lakers, the core of their team is intact and will be together for several more years. With Bryant and Pau Gasol locked up in long-term contracts, along with a host of very good supporting players, they have a very good chance of continuing their mini-dynasty.

Legacies are funny, in a way. They celebrate history but they always have an eye on future events, for how the legacy may someday be altered. For the Lakers, theirs – past, present, and future – remains bright. For the Celtics, it packed its bags last night and moved on, awaiting a rebuilding job that will allow it to enter into the discussion again, someday.

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