Rizwaan Zahid, a Carleton student who has been a contributor to fightnews.ca, fightfan.com and The Fight Network, also loves him some roundball, so he's shared some thoughts on the NBA playoffs.
Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups are once again playing head to head in a playoff matchup. The last time the two players were in a playoff series, was in the 2004 NBA Finals, where the Detroit Pistons whipped the L.A. Lakers to take the Championship. Both players have come quite a long way since that series. Since then, Bryant has improved as an all around player.
The few years before that, Kobe was one half of the all star duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. The two may not have had chemistry off the court, but on the court the two dominated. This led to three championship rings for Kobe, a former 13th overall pick.
Billups on the other hand was widely seen as an underachiever. He had played with many different teams up to that point, but Detroit is where the point guard really found his groove. Since then though, a lot has changed for both men.
Billups continued to be a part of the now dominating Pistons. They were part of the Finals in 2005 as well, but fell short against the San Antonio Spurs. Although they had a terrific year in 2006, with a regular season record of 64-18, the Pistons would be eliminated by the eventual champions, the Miami Heat. He was with the Pistons for six years, every year under Billups did the team reach the Eastern Conference finals.
The trade to Denver may have been terrible for the Pistons, but it was an excellent acquisition for the Nuggets. Billups has transformed this team and they are still in contention to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Kobe’s reputation had a bit of a downturn after the 2004 final. There were the sordid details of his rape trial in Colorado, which most people have moved on from. Perhaps not surprising, '04-05 was Bryant's worst season, as he failed to make even the second all-star team. The season following saw the return of Phil Jackson, who despite past controversies between the coach and player. Kobe had a few personal accomplishments, dropping both 61 points and 81 points in a single game during the season.
Nevertheless, he was still a player who was thought to be not only selfish and a ball-hog so to speak, but a follower rather than a leader. Before the next season began, Kobe said publicly that he would like to be traded but later retracted his statement after speaking with Jackson. The team added some players to help take some of the load off of Kobe, including forward-centre Pau Gasol, whose awkward style and skills have helped the Lakers.
Two different paths of many years, have led both men back to this series. Kobe wants to prove that he does not need a Shaq-esque player and Billups winning the championship would simply make Joe Dumars wonder why he ever traded the Colorado native. It's 2-1 for LA, and each game has been in doubt going into the final minute. You can't blink.