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Wednesday December 8th

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1. This week, Kobe Bryant passed Jerry West as the Lakers all-time leading scorer. Some analysts have argued that Kobe still should not be considered the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all-time, claiming that Magic Johnson still holds the title. With the Lakers’ scoring title and four NBA championships under his belt, what else does Bryant need to do to solidify himself as not only the greatest Lakers player, but one of the greatest players of all-time?

BG: I think Kobe Bryant is going to have a hard time getting people to cement him as the greatest play in either Lakers or NBA history. Magic Johnson played in a time which most fans label as the best years of the NBA. Johnson gave the fans epic battles with Larry Bird and won five championships while wearing the purple and gold. Bryant’s best shot to sway people’s perception is to equal or surpass that line of five titles. If Bryant wins one for the thumb, people wouldn’t be able to point out that Johnson won more titles and then statistics would become a more relevant point, giving Bryant the advantage. As far as best player ever in league history, I don’t think Bryant will be able to surpass Michael Jordan. Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls in a span of eight years and the only reason he didn’t win those titles in six straight years is because he basically retired for the 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 seasons, only playing in 17 games over those two years to play baseball. Jordan is the NBA standard for grading the greatness of the newest players. Every team is always looking for the next Jordan and all the top draft picks are judged on whether or not they will reach Jordan’s level. We have seen this recently with stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Kobe is certainly in the discussion of the top all-time NBA players, but it is going to take a truly special player to knock Jordan off the throne.

BO: Kobe Bryant is a fantastic player and will be regarded as one of the faces of an NBA era dominated by superstars, but he will never make Los Angeles hearts swell like Magic Johnson. To answer the question, there is nothing he can do. He plays like a superstar but just does not have that same likeability factor that Johnson had/has. If he undid his rape allegations, disputes with Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry Buss and Phil Jackson or his requests to be traded, maybe he could be regarded in the same light as Johnson, but that ship has sailed. Statistically, he will undoubtedly be a Hall-of-Famer, have his number retired, be picked for the All-Century team … the whole nine yards. But he will never pass Johnson in the intangible categories. Sorry Bryant.

MH: Thirteen years in, with six or seven still in the tank, Bryant has already produced plenty to be in this conversation. Raw talent, longevity and gut-check greatness put him as arguably the league’s all-time 1A, if not its outright No. 1. Johnsons’ body of work never really sparked that consideration, so congrats to Bryant as the de facto greatest Laker ever. But, by no fault of his own, his transcending of the sport ends there. Bryant’s rise and the Lakers’ three-peat (1999-2002) restored national interest in a league on the brink of irrelevance. Problem is, it was the turnover of a handful of all-time greats — most notably, Michael Jordan — that blew a gaping hole for Bryant to fill. That’s the basis for these comparisons — does Bryant hold up against Jordan? Also, with LeBron James rolling in his prime, the analysts won’t dethrone Air Jordan to make way for the Black Mamba, who’s going to have to fend off King James, as if he isn’t already. It’s tough to call a guy with multiple Lamborghinis unlucky, but timing has got a harsh ceiling on Bryant’s place in history.

DN: Both Brandon and Bobby gave solid answers and I couldn’t agree more about the reasons as to why Bryant shouldn’t be considered the greatest ever. Three points go to Brandon because he gave the best overall answer and answered the second part of my question about what it would take to be considered the greatest of player of all time, not just the greatest Laker. Two points to Bobby for a solid answer, but it just wasn’t as complete as Brandon’s answer. Matt gets one for not giving Johnson enough credit.

2. This year, the NHL decided to cancel it’s annual All-Star game and All-Star weekend, due to the winter Olympics. While there are

those who don’t care about hockey, many people tend to follow the Olympics, similar to how no one follows soccer until the World Cup. What are your thoughts on Olympic Hockey, and what team do you think will take home the gold?

BG: I think it was a great idea to cancel the NHL All-Star game in favor of the winter Olympics. All-Star games never really have much meaning to them since the players don’t play their hardest, so might as well let them focus on the Olympics. Olympic hockey is the complete opposite of the NHL all-star game. Hockey players are very serious about training for the Olympics and they play their hearts out to win gold for their country. Olympic hockey and World Cup soccer bring out a lot of fan support and the support these teams get is far greater than support given to any team that will ever play for the Super Bowl. The Olympics bring together people of all races and classes and allow them to share a sense of national pride. With that said, the favorite to bring home gold for their country in 2010 is the Russians. Hockey fans are eager to see the Russians meet the Canadians in the final, so that the gold will come down to a battle between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The Russians get the advantage in my book due to their star-studded cast that is led by Ovechkin, but also includes stars such as Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. They may not have the best goalkeeper in the world, but the Russian offensive attack in 2010 could be the best ever.

BO: Honestly, I have completely lost track of all things NHL-related this year and you probably could have told me the All-Star game already happened and I would have accepted it as fact. That being said, it is still pretty common knowledge that Canada has the best national team each year, so there is my pick. The team is loaded with talent, i.e. Jerome Iginla, Sidney Crosby and Danny Heatley, in addition to the league’s best goaltenders in Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. Beyond who I am choosing to win, my thoughts on Olympic hockey are few and far between. Go Canada and go maple syrup!

MH: The casual fan sits through hockey with the same interest that makes him flip on auto racing — socially acceptable violence i.e. fights and wrecks. Now, Olympic-caliber star power typically enhances the product and hockey is no exception. But the game loses the same seasonal audience during the Olympics that the World Cup thrives on, because hockey’s marquee luster doesn’t fly on the global stage. The International Olympic Committee doesn’t have the same stomach for fisticuffs as we do in the pseudo-sadistic USA (NHL-5 minute penalty, OLY-ejection, one-game suspension). Players won’t drop the gloves, and sport’s driving force — the casual fan — won’t be watching. If you’re not sold, google NASCAR headlines for what its diminishing viewership did to safety regulations. It’s not about the sport, nor is it the world we live in. In this exceptional case, in these 50 states, we just know what we like. And I’ll take Latvia, for no other reason than doubt that anyone else will.

DN: Fairly similar answers, even though if you guys looked at the results of the 2006 Olympics, you would know that Russian finished 4th and Canada 7th (granted of course without Ovechkin and Crosby). Three points go to Brandon for not hating hockey and going with Russia. Russia has a solid team, and more importantly, I’m Russian so I can’t go against my own people. Two points to Bobby for picking Canada, who has a solid team, but most likely won’t win. One point for Matt for talking too much about NASCAR.

3. Not surprisingly, Serena Williams and Roger Federer both won the Australian Open. Even with other superstars such as Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina constantly challenging them, is it safe to say that both Williams and Federer are far and above the best tennis players in the world, and perhaps all-time?

BG: Roger Federer and Serena Williams are definitely two of the best tennis players in the world right now. Both of these players are very talented, but they would have to play tennis like Tiger Woods plays golf for me to place them that far ahead of their competition. Williams has become the most dominant player in women’s tennis, yet I wouldn’t say she is far above any other women’s tennis player right now. Williams isn’t even the best tennis player in her family during some of these opens. She has become the face of women’s tennis, but she isn’t a goddess among female players. The same conclusion can be made with Federer, who is the best of the male tennis players. Federer and his rival — Rafael Nadal — have created a classic give-and-take in men’s tennis that is keeping both players on top of their game. Since 2003, Federer has won 14 of the 29 opens and has been the most productive male tennis player. However, Nadal has won six of those 29 opens and has given Roger Federer a run for his money in most matches. Federer is certainly the No. 1 male tennis player in the world right now, but I’m just saying Rafael Nadal is not that far behind.

BO: First off, in tennis it is very tough to compare players of different eras simply because conditioning and training have changed how long Federer or Pete Sampras could be at the top of their games, but right now it’s hard to argue against Federer and Serena Williams as the top players in sport. They are both ranked No. 1 respectively, but beyond that, both have insanely high winning percentages in grand slam finals. Also, each had to rebound when they were thought to be declining, i.e. Williams’ knee troubles in 2004-2006 and Federer’s losses to Rafael Nadal in the French Open and Wimbledon in 2008. They are both class acts and with wins in the Australian Open, they stand atop their games once again.

MH: What we’re seeing in professonal tennis is nothing we haven’t already seen elsewhere. Call it cliché, flimsy or that I know nothing about tennis (the latter being mildly true). But there’s always been an “it”-factor that partitions any sport’s upper echelon — in this case, Roger Federer — from its still talented, albeit underachieving, second tier — Andy Roddick. Count Federer’s 16 Grand Slam wins as a testament to consistency, but his showing this past Wimbledon patented a brand of dominance that the game hadn’t before known. Outplayed on, by his standards, an “off” day, Federer delivered an instant gem in the tournament’s longest final round, rallying to recover from an early deficit against Roddick. Lesson learned — circumstance goes to the wayside with guys like Federer. Churning out wins is, and will forever be, second nature.

DN: Good answers with more or less the same points made. The 3 points go to Bobby for mentioning how both Federer and Williams are on top after being written off. Two points to Brandon for a good argument, but filled with a little too much Nadal-loving. Matt gets 1 for ignoring Williams and only talking about Federer.

Brandon wins again 8 - 7 - 3


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