Kobe makes a believer of him

“Watch this,” I say, standing in middle of the family room, pointing at the television.

“Watch what?” says my 14-year-old daughter, unmoved on the couch in her basketball sweats, Wednesday’s junior varsity practice complete, nothing more to learn tonight.

“They are going to throw the ball to Kobe, he is going to make a basket at the buzzer, and the Lakers are going to win,” I say.

“You really believe that, Dad?” she says.

“You know, I finally do,” I say.

After 14 years of publicly questioning and challenging and wondering about the Lakers’ bewildering star, it has finally sunk into my brain like that jumper sank into the hearts of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Goodness, the guy really can do anything.

The guy is the best player in the NBA, and, sorry, LeBron James, you have to wait.

The guy may be the best clutch shooter in Lakers history, and sorry, Jerry West, but the evidence is irrefutable.

The guy is not yet Michael Jordan, but long after he retires, we’ll remember these days as if he were.

What the freshly crowned Bryant has accomplished this season, playing like a big man when Pau Gasol was gone, playing like a madman with a broken finger, playing like “oh, man” with two last-second, game-winning jumpers in the last couple of weeks, it should end all debate.

Even counting his MVP year, he has never been better.

Looking back to where this all started in the autumn of 1996, maybe no athlete in this town has ever come further.

The only thing more winding than his path has been my 14 years of scribblings about it.

“Is Kobe Bryant a future superstar or sideshow? Is he about championships or confusion?”

I wrote those words in April 1999, at the end of Bryant’s third full season here. There were the four airballs in the final minutes of the final playoff game of his rookie season. There was the brewing trouble with Shaquille O’Neal.

Those questions were real at the time, and shared by many folks who wouldn’t admit it, and I wouldn’t have changed one word.

Bryant, of course, eventually changed them for me.

You want out, Kobe? See ya. Why settle for being the next Michael Jordan when you can be the next Jerry Stackhouse?

Written in January 2003, this was my answer to his first mutterings of unhappiness. Several times in the ensuing several years, when Bryant was at his pouting worst, I would again write that the Lakers should trade him.

OK, so maybe I would change a couple of those words.

I saw Jeanie Buss on Thursday and congratulated her organization for the umpteenth time on ignoring my pleas.

“It was hard,” she said. “But it’s really all about talent. And we just could not replace that talent.”

“A sweet kid has grown into a sassy young adult. . . . Wonder Boy has sometimes become Wonder-What-On-Earth-He-Is-Thinking-Boy.”

I wrote that in March 2002, as Bryant hardened into a veteran with little tolerance for anything that didn’t suit him, which included O’Neal and passes to other players.

He eventually grew out of that place, the true wonder being in watching it all happen.

Kobe Bryant seems to be a tormented soul who doesn’t want to be here. His behavior is erratic. His chief goal seems to be forcing his way off the team. Maybe the Lakers should considering granting his request. Yeah, maybe they should trade him.”

This was written in October 2003, at the start of Bryant’s sexual-assault case season. Much of this town, and many of the Lakers, felt the same way. Everything screamed that it would just be easier if he left.

Did I tell you I thanked Buss for not listening?

“It appeared Bryant, hurt by recent comments about his selfishness, was tanking the game to prove that the Lakers can’t win without him.

This was in April 2004, after he took just one first-half shot and basically stood around for 42 minutes while the undermanned Sacramento Kings handed the Lakers an important late-season loss.

I still believe Bryant was trying to send a message of arrogance that day. I also believe that the message of disgust he received was much stronger.

Five years later, the guy is scoring 42 points on nine fingers.

“The question is, is Kobe Bryant worth it?”

This was written in July 2004, after the Lakers traded O’Neal for several reasons, one of them being Bryant’s happiness.

It was a fair question at the time. Last summer made it a moot one.

“Three years after being anointed the solution, Bryant has decided instead to be the problem and I ask, this is a winner?”

This was part of the chorus that resounded nationally in May 2007 after Bryant threw his legendary I’ll-play-on- Pluto tantrum.

Of all of his self-dug ditches, this one seemed the hardest to scale. He had to not only show that he wasn’t really a selfish jerk, but he had to do it by winning a championship without O’Neal, showing his strength of character by hoisting a title on his back.

Well, last summer, he showed it. This fall, he is expounding upon it. Forever, a city will remember it.

“Watch this,” I say, we all say, with the confidence in Bryant’s face before taking that last shot, with the conviction in his upraised arms afterward.