There’s no sense in hiding it. I can’t. I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan. Have been ever since I first witnessed a skinny 14-year-old kid dribble through a maze of grown men on an asphalt court for a layup, then flash the same brilliant smile the world knows today. No one may be ready to admit it, at least not in these parts. But the greatest basketball player in the game today is making a strong push past that elite pantheon where only the very special ones reside. A place where guys like Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird boldly stand.

Sorry to all of you many Kobe Bryant haters out there in the Delaware Valley, but if the greatest player in the world and his Lakers conquer the Boston Celtics, as L.A. is expected to do, and win Game 7 of the NBA Finals Thursday night, it will mark Bryant’s fifth NBA title. It will mean back-to-back titles for Bryant on a Shaq-less team. It will mean it’s time to start talking about Kobe as potentially the greatest player of all-time.

In some circles, that’s blasphemy. Around here, as someone who covered Kobe with the only other team he ever played for, Lower Merion High School, it’s an unbiased, educated view that’s beginning to make more sense every day. For one, a fifth NBA championship from the 12-time NBA All-Star will certainly put him in the Jordan discussion. Jordan finished with six, two sets of bookend threepeats. If Los Angeles wins Game 7, Bryant will be one title behind Jordan–two-thirds of the way to a possible second threepeat.

Right now, Jordan is third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 32,292 points, and the 31-year-old Bryant sits at 12, with 25,790. Kobe shows no signs of slowing down. By the time he’s finished maybe seven years down the line, Kobe will likely surpass that mark. He has proven he could win with Shaquille O’Neal, and he’s proven he can win without him, that he can be the hub his team revolves around.

But this is really an argument that goes beyond points and stats, isn’t it? Anyone who watches Bryant has to marvel at the impossible angles he makes shots with two defenders draped all over him. He’s a better outside shooter than Jordan was. He plays all areas of the game, and is dominating games much the same way as “Mike” did.

I remember talking to Kobe his rookie year, which today seems like an eternity ago. He was telling me how the goal was to be like Jordan in every way. Aside from the commercial smile, Jordan would cut your throat, heart and lungs out to win a game. It didn’t matter to him. I can’t help but remember the picture of the glowering Jordan during his first NBA Finals in 1991 against the Lakers, head bent down slightly looking up through his eyelids at Magic Johnson taking the ball up the court. It was an evil Hannibal Lecter glare that intimated “I want to kill you and eat your liver.” That was Jordan.

Philadelphia fans saw Kobe’s dark, malevolent side first hand when he and his Lakers devoured the Sixers in three straight here to win the 2001 title, stomping all over the local guys as if they were a jayvee high school team. Now the Celtics will have to deal with the greatest player in the game and someone who is closing in on a life-time goal of being considered the greatest ever.

It’s coming, whether area hoops fans are ready to admit or not.