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ABC analysts announce choice for best in game

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / June 7, 2008

He is regarded as the best player in the NBA, but as talented as Lakers star Kobe Bryant is, his public perception is very mixed.

Mark Jackson, an analyst for ABC for the NBA Finals, thinks Bryant is as good as Michael Jordan.

"There's no doubt in my mind," said Jackson. "People may say, 'How could you say that?' But that's not a slight to Michael Jordan. If I'm Michael Jordan, I'm sitting at home watching this guy getting it done and saying, 'Man, that's a compliment.' They are by far the two greatest perimeter players that this league has ever seen."

Fellow analyst Jeff Van Gundy said the difference is Jordan was more than a basketball player, he was a marketing force. Bryant would rather just play ball.

"Kobe Bryant seems a lot more focused on just becoming the greatest basketball player in the world," said Van Gundy. "I think Kobe Bryant is underrated right now. I think people, everyone is picking on him all the time about what he wasn't. This whole idea about how he's a lot better teammate, he gets it now, he shoots less. I'll tell you why he shoots less: He's playing with a lot better players.

"Now, [the perception is] he wanted to win too much back then. I don't look at it like he's gone through this metamorphosis and he's seen the light about being a good guy. I'll tell you, I'll take a knife fighter over a milk drinker any time. That guy's a knife fighter. I'd rather try to tone him down rather than to rev a few people up."

Van Gundy and Jackson said not only is Bryant the best in the world, there is nobody even close.

"Who has been the best player in the NBA for the last five or six years?" said Van Gundy. "No one would argue, no player, no coach, would argue that Kobe Bryant [hasn't] been the best player in the world. Look what he did to San Antonio? That's the best defensive team in the NBA."

Bryant was regarded as the bad guy in the Shaquille O'Neal-Bryant rift because of O'Neal's popularity, but Van Gundy said he'd take Bryant every time.

"Even though O'Neal wasn't nearly the hard worker that Bryant was at his game, I would say 90 percent of the media at least took O'Neal's side," said Van Gundy. "[But] like I said, give me that guy. That guy's improvement level from the time he came into the league to now, incredible."

As good as Bryant is, the Celtics are up, 1-0, in the Finals.

"I thought it was a very good Game 1," said Jackson. "I think if I'm Kobe Bryant, like he talked about, he had great looks that he missed. The Celtics' defense, in the second half especially, stepped up and really took over the basketball game."

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