- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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This story originally appears in the May 4th issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Every player might want to win a championship, but not every player is obsessed with getting one. The obsessed can't bear to watch once they've been eliminated, can't wait to make the key adjustments that'll put them on the parade route. These folks aren't the only single-minded souls in the league, but they're the best of the obsessed. -Ric Bucher
Chris Paul | Hornets
The February deal that nearly sent Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for expiring contracts sent Paul, N'awlins' Mr. Everything, into overdrive. He averaged 24.2 points, 10.8 assists and 3.2 steals in March, nabbing the West's Player of the Month award.
Kobe Bryant | Lakers
For all his maniacal conditioning, his energy is not limitless. Playing 40,000-plus minutes will do that. But really, this may be his last best shot at winning a ring without the big You-Know-Who. "That's what he wants more than anything," says one Western Conference player.
LeBron James | Cavaliers
He can't rule the world without conquering the NBA first. James is clearly on a crusade, whether it's career highs in shooting efficiency (FGs and FTs) or blocked shots, including a dozen of the ferocious come-from-behind variety. Skip the crown -- this king wants a ring.
Tim Duncan | Spurs
San Antonio's chances seemed bleak after they lost Manu Ginobili, but TD's 20 points and 19 boards in the season finale led the Spurs to the No. 3 seed. "See you in LA," Duncan said before that game. As in, We're playing the Lakers in the conference finals.
Yao Ming | Rockets
With T-Mac out, it's all on Yao to end the Rockets' run of six first-round exits. Another fizzle on the launchpad, and the front office might have to go back to the drawing board. Yao is ready to prove he's got what it takes to be the foundation of a title-contending team.
Dwyane Wade | Heat
Scoring title, check. Playoffs, check. Staying healthy, check. Time to chill for a minute? Check yourself. D-Wade put up a career-high 55 on the Knicks on Easter, still bent on proving that when it comes to MVP or league's best-player talk, his name deserves to be in the conversation.
Phil Jackson | Lakers
Leg and back issues are impacting his ability to make road games, and he'll be 64 in September. So if he's ever going to capture his 10th title -- and break his tie with nemesis Red Auerbach for the most titles by a head coach -- he knows he has to do it now.
John Paxson | Bulls
Retirment is beckoning after 24 years with the Bulls, but sources say he persuaded owner Jerry Reinsdorf to make a pricey trade-deadline deal to solidify the team's playoff chances. Reinsdorf did, a source says, with one mandate: Make the second round.
Les Alexander | Rockets
Having not gotten past the second round in 11 years, he handpicked coach Rick Adelman and co-signed on Mr. Volatility, Ron Artest. T-Mac's bowing out for season-ending knee surgery has resulted in Alexander's wannting a deep playoff run more than ever.
Cleveland | Cavaliers
If knowing how it feels to win it all but having been long denied that sensation is worse than never having won one, then Cleveland's under-50 set is fortunate. For those who do remember the Browns' 1964 NFL title, this may finally be their moment.
These folks aren't the only single-minded souls in the league, but they're the best of the obsessed.