source: Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has always been lauded for his self-motivation and drive to be the best. It's a good thing he has that internal ambition, because according to Bryant, he's gone through his 16-year career without a true rival on the exterior to push him to succeed.
"I didn't have one," Bryant said after scoring 38 points in the Lakers' 115-107 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
The Lakers play host to the Miami Heat on Sunday. Bryant called it a "measuring stick" game against Miami, which has the third-best record in the league at 28-8 and is 3-0 against Bryant and the Lakers since "The Decision."
Despite Bryant's acknowledging that it's not just another game, he wouldn't characterize his relationship with LeBron James as a rivalry.
"Not for me," Bryant said. "I get up for everybody just the same, to be honest. It's hard for me to turn my meter up any higher than it normally is."
OK, Bryant was asked, how about Dwyane Wade? After all, Wade plays shooting guard just as Bryant does, Wade has one Finals MVP trophy to Bryant's two, and Wade has to be close to as competitive as Bryant or else he wouldn't have given Bryant that hard foul across the face in the All-Star Game.
"He's too young," Bryant said. "He's too young. When I came into the league, he was in elementary school."
Bryant is three years older than Wade, but was already a seven-year veteran when Wade was drafted in 2003.
Bryant said it is "a little late in the game" for him to develop a rivalry with any current NBA player, so instead he is chasing names in the record books rather than in box scores from the 2011-12 season.
"At this point my rivals, in terms of what I have left to accomplish in my career, (left the game) when Magic (Johnson) and Michael (Jordan) retired in '98," Bryant said, referring to the second of Jordan's three retirements that came after he won his sixth and final championship with the Chicago Bulls. "That's it. In terms of what I'm looking to accomplish, that's about it."
Bryant has five championships, tied with Johnson -- who won all of his with the Lakers -- and is one ring behind Jordan. Earlier in the season, Bryant said he was "obsessed" with adding another championship to his collection.
"What I have left to accomplish, those players retired a long time ago," Bryant said.
The San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan won four championships to Bryant's five throughout their shared careers, but Bryant said while the Spurs might have qualified as a team rival to his Lakers, Duncan's individual rivalry came against Shaquille O'Neal as a fellow big man.
"He was never in my position," Bryant said. "He was more Shaq's rival than mine. As a team, the Spurs were always a team that we had to go through. So from that standpoint, yes, but in terms of personally, no. I've outgrown them all, from A.I. (Allen Iverson) when I first came in to (Tracy) McGrady to Vince Carter and so forth and so on."
Bryant said that he developed the desire to win multiple championships from an early age.
"It's always what I want to accomplish," Bryant said. "That's what you set your goals at. Growing up, watching them, they've always won multiple championships and that was always something that I felt like must be done. So, my goal originally when I was a kid and so forth, and when I was a teenager, always started from gauging them."
That gives James and Bryant something in common, of course, even though James was ridiculed for his now-infamous, made-for-TV interview when he declared he wanted to win "not four, not five, not six, not seven ..." championships with the Miami Heat.
James was under the microscope again Friday after putting up 35 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots against the Utah Jazz in helping to overcome an 18-point deficit, but he passed off to Udonis Haslem with the outcome on the line. Haslem missed a potential game-winning shot in the Heat's 99-98 loss.
The NBA All-Star Game ended in similar fashion. Instead of attempting the potential game-winning shot with Bryant guarding him, James' pass to Carmelo Anthony was stolen in the waning seconds of a tight game. Bryant heckled James at the time, imploring him to shoot the ball, but said on Friday he only did that because he wanted the duty of defending the player who was taking the last shot.
"I think everybody kind of took it out of context in terms of his performance last year in the Finals, like I was out there thinking about that or something," Bryant said. "It was moreso the challenge that I wanted. I wanted him to try to score. I wanted that challenge (to guard him). So, I was more upset than anything that I didn't get a chance to face that."
Bryant might not get to face James in a last-second scoring situation Sunday, but he'll certainly see plenty of him for 48 minutes -- whether he thinks of him as a rival or not.
"The big test is Sunday," Bryant said. "I'm very interested to see how we respond to that challenge."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.