I'm a Kobe fan. Huge Kobe fan. He's practically my generation's MJ. Nothing against MJ, I just never saw him play much. I went to the United Center once, when I was seven, and all I remember is Scottie Pippen's crew-cut and cotton candy. Also, I'm from D.C., so the fact that MJ ruined the entire development and chemistry of an up-and-coming Washington Wizards team, just so he could milk a little more limelight, doesn't really sit well.
Having lived in the LA area now for two years, I've become a Kobe fan. Which is why I'm genuinely worried for the Lakers, should they play LeBron's Cavaliers in this year's NBA Finals. I'm worried for three reasons:
1) Defense. Having witnessed the Boston Celtics' utter demolition of the Lakers last June, first-hand, in a crowded Georgetown bar amongst rabid Boston Masshole fans yelling while chugging beer (I didn't even think that was possible), I've watched Kobe's squad carefully all year for any signs of an improving defense. I didn't see much worth noting, other than the fact Ariza was sorely missed. If Bynum's back to full strength, that's one thing, but I highly doubt he is. Let's check some stats: at year's end, LA was giving up 100 points per game on average to its opponents. Through its first four games with Utah in the playoffs, the Lakers are allowing the Jazz 98 points a game. LeBron, in comparison, led his Cavs to a first-round sweep of the Shadowy Pistons, including holding them to a pathetic 78 a game. A twenty-point-differential? Don't the playoffs get harder as you progress? I realize the Jazz are tougher than Detroit, and way more physical, but don't be fooled if you think Roy/Aldridge/Blake, or Artest/Yao/Brooks, whoever Kobe faces next, won't be a tougher challenge. Especially if it's vs. Portland, on the road, where the Rose Garden owns Los Angeles.
2) Home-court advantage. The East won the All-Star game, so Game 7, if necessary, will be in Cleveland. The Lakers could barely get it together in the Finals last year, let alone on the road, where they allowed the crazy Boston Masshole fans to get in their heads (remember Paul Pierce's Willis Reed moment). Even if Jack Nicholson shows up, he's still in LeBron's house, where the Cavs went a ridiculous 39-2, almost tying an NBA record. The Lakers did hand them one of those losses, but no one's thinking about the regular season anymore.
3) Hunger. Kobe's been to the Finals a handful of times, LeBron just once (and that was against the Spurs, who just aren't fun to play against, period). LeBron knows it's more his time than Kobe's. He's got time, a younger surrounding cast, and a younger coach (who also got Coach of the Year), so you know he wants it more. Not to mention, this is LeBron's big chance to show Jay-Z, Brooklyn, and everyone else in Manhattan why he would fit so well in the Big Apple next year. It's his "I've realized Cleveland has no night-life" showcase, and he's rehearsed long and hard for it.
I truly, truly hope Kobe wins it all this year. He's due for a championship that proves he doesn't need Shaq. I just worry for him.