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Kobe Bryant rises above any rivalry

Talk about brilliant. Not only was Nike spared months of talks trying to get the real Kobe and LeBron together, it didn't even need a real rivalry!

In the real world (assuming there still is one) there's no rivalry at this point, and barely a competition.

LeBron may be younger, hotter commercially and perhaps even the better player, but that doesn't count.

In the one and only thing that does, Kobe leads in titles, 4-0, and he's on a Lakers team that looks stronger than it did winning last spring's title.

LeBron's Cavaliers are No. 3 in the East and live in fear of losing him as a free agent this summer.

In today lemmings' rush to celebrate and/or condemn, winning can rescue anyone from anything, as it has with Bryant.

And losing can curse anyone for anything . . . as it has with Bryant. It's not fair, or smart, but it definitely is.

Being one of the Final Four means that within 25 days, you can go from accepting the MVP trophy from David Stern to being torched nationwide for not congratulating the team that beats you, like James last spring.

No one suffered as many slings and arrows as Bryant, who was this good for a long time, while being vilified, as his own 2005 Nike ad noted, mockingly:

"Ball hog . . . You're garbage . . . Prima donna . . . Mental."

By their last season together, Shaquille O'Neal had become Bryant's sidekick, as Kobe went to a new level while commuting back and forth to Colorado.

That one ended with the Lakers' loss to Detroit in the Finals, the trade of O'Neal . . . and the ostracism of Bryant for supposedly running off Shaq.

Two seasons later, Kobe awed his peers who had viewed him so skeptically, scoring 81 points in one game, 62 in another with two 50s and six 40s in a six-week, game-was-never-played-at-this-level burst.

That season ended with Bryant accused of "tanking" Game 7 of a first-round loss to Phoenix.

By the spring of 2007, seemingly cemented in mediocrity, Bryant turned on Lakers owner Jerry Buss, demanding to be traded.

Now, with a championship team having magically arisen around him, Kobe is Zeus.

After his running, banked three-pointer beat Miami, the New York Times' Larry Coon wrote, "It was luck in much the same way that Picasso lucked into 'Guernica,' or Beethoven lucked into his Fifth Symphony."

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