Kobe Bryant - In all honesty I moved to Los Angeles almost 7 years ago as a total Kobe hater. I grew up a Warrior fan and always resented the Lakers for being so dominant, while my team was so pitiful. I was also a big JKidd fan, so I'd spent the previous couple of years rooting on his Nets squad and rooting against the Lakers in the finals - only to watch Shaq & Kobe hoist the trophy again and again. The following couple seasons I sat back and watched the Lakers dynasty self-destruct around Kobe and the rape allegations, selfish play and general inability to keep it together. They bottomed out when Phil left to become a biographer, but somehow they got it back and so did Kobe. And through it, he won me over as a fan.
The guy is just unreal, he hits big shot after big shot, and although he doesnt make them all, he looks more cold blooded than just about anyone has ever looked in the final seconds of a game. If I needed someone to do brain surgery on me, I think I'd pick Kobe, because I dont believe his hands shake and I almost dont think he gets nervous. He hit another ridiculous game winner, which was defended as well as humanly possible (or even "godly possible", since it was Jesus Shuttlesworth all up in his grill) over the weekend in Boston and then went out tonight and put up 44 in Memphis to pass Jerry West as the highest scoring Laker of all time - where he hit another big 3 in the final minute, but then dished to Artest for the wide open game winning attempt, which missed long.
I was having a chat with a buddy of mine recently, who is a real Lakers fan, and we were talking about Kobe's place in history and he said, "well he's getting close to Jordan". I laughed out loud when he said that, but the more we talked about it, the less humorous it seemed. Kobe has 4 rings to MJ's 6, but has already played in 5 finals. Of course he won the first three with Shaq, but if the Lakers go on to win again this season (with a team around him very similar to the caliber of teams Jordan had for most of his career) and he claims another MVP trophy, all of which is highly likely, then he's inching a bit closer. If they can keep the team around him and he can continue to stay healthy for another 2-3 seasons and possibly win one more ring and another MVP, plus a few more buzzer beating highlights and the comparisons will have to be drawn. Heck, even Jordan never scored 81. While it sounds sacrilegious to me to even consider Kobe anywhere near MJ, he could easily play 7-8 more years, padding those career stats and making it a debate that most of us will have a hard time not entertaining.
Oh course there are a lot of things that need to happen before he gets there - but either way, Kobe has done one heck of a job winning me over as a fan, and he can have a spot on our roster anytime.