Yesterday after practice, Phil Jackson was asked if he thought Kobe Bryant takes things -- say a Finals loss capped by a humiliating Game 6 in '08 -- more personally than other players:
"You know, he devotes so much of his life to this game. It really does take an inordinate amount of time in his daily life. It's not a pastime to him. This is a devotion, not just an avocation. And when you do that, when you throw yourself into it as deeply as he does, all those things count a little bit more."
So is it important for him to be recognized as the game's best player? "I can't answer that for him," Jackson said. "Personally, I think it is. From his own standpoint, I think he wants to be recognized as the best player in the game. I think he wants to show it. He knows it's ephemeral, that [it doesn't] last."
Kobe will say he doesn't care, and avoids comparisons to other players like the plague.
Mark Kreigel of FoxSports.com explores the issue in more detail, including commentary from Kobe's teammates, and believes firmly Kobe wants that sort of recognition. I agree. It's almost impossible to have his supernatural drive without the accompanying ego/desire to see the results acknowledged.
(He gains nothing from admitting as much, besides the opportunity to be branded petty and selfish.) There's certainly no question Kobe wants to be the best. But, playing armchair psychologist for a moment, I don't think he sees the equation as simply as "I want people to think I'm better than LeBron," or even having people look at him as the best the game has seen. At this point in Kobe's career, he defines "the best" as the guy who wins the most.
Titles are the most important number he watches. This I believe.
One common deflection Kobe uses when people make the Michael Jordan comparison is pointing out he's still got a lot of career left. Inherent in the answer is an eye toward history and his place in it. The time will come for you to decide, but let me finish writing my resume.
The guy clearly cares, and it's a large part of why he's so absurdly good.