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The Front Row with JIM LITKE June 18, 2010

| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

This is the curse of being Kobe Bryant: Win or lose another championship, he will never escape Michael Jordan's shadow. Neither will anyone else.

It's worth remembering that when these playoffs began, some very smart people wondered out loud whether Bryant could climb out of Kevin Durant's.

The 31-year-old Bryant was coming off a string of nagging injuries and poor shooting performances at the end of the regular season.

The 21-year-old Durant was the youngest scoring champion in league history and the game's fastest-rising star. Bryant quickly quieted that talk by putting Durant and the Thunder in his rearview mirror, then the Jazz and Suns. By the time the finals rolled around, he was once again being compared to opponents he can't ever beat.

We're not talking about the Celtics, but the notion that Bryant's body of work is somehow still incomplete, that he must keep winning titles to secure his spot among the handful of greatest players ever. Please. It's way past time to give the man his due.

Bryant won his first three NBA championships as Shaquille O'Neal's sidekick, or at least that's the way the story was framed. A fourth title last year with a supporting cast that included exactly one reliable sidekick, Pau Gasol, should have removed any doubts.

But Bryant, who won his fifth title Thursday night, might still not be considered the greatest Laker ever as Magic Johnson finished his stay in LA with the same number. Bryant could win a sixth title, as many as Jordan won, and still suffer in comparison. Bryant will walk away from the game in a few years with numbers that make his argument persuasively, but he'll never gain the top spot.

Bryant will never be as lovable as Magic, though he likely will be every bit as accomplished when he steps away. He won't be as feared as Jordan was either, but he's the closest thing most of us will ever see to either. As legacies go, it doesn't get much better than that.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.

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