Discussing Kobe’s Bryant’s legacy as he makes his final appearance against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills tonight.
This past Sunday night’s Lakers vs. Pacers game was supposed to be just another game, one of 82 for a struggling purple and gold team in the midst of a rebuilding project. Kobe Bryant chose to make that Sunday the day of his official retirement announcement following this season, his 20th in the NBA and amazingly all 20 of them for the same franchise.
What happened at the end of this game was so ironic, but at the same time fitting to exactly what Kobe had described earlier that day during his press conference.
The Lakers had the ball down by 4 points with 14 seconds left on their home floor. These are the types of moments that Kobe lived for and the stage set up perfectly for him to write another chapter in his storied career. He came off a pick and calmly drilled a three pointer from the left wing in the face of budding superstar Paul George, a player that grew up idolizing Bryant.
The smile on Kobe’s face and the crowd reaction was priceless as this was a subtle reminder that the superstar was still in this 37 year old body.
Nov 29, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant shoots over Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
After George calmly sank two free throws on the other end, the Lakers called time to set up what would be a potential game tying three. Everyone in the building that night knew the ball was going to be in Kobe’s hands. He came off a couple of screens, got enough space to get off a contested 27 foot three pointer from the top of the key and proceeded to throw up an air ball.
This was a moment that in the past would be a game-tying make in a clutch situation, something that Laker fans grew accustomed to seeing game after game from Kobe. Like Kobe had stated earlier that day, there is beauty in not being able to blow past defenders anymore. There was also beauty in what happened Sunday as we were able to witness greatness and mere seconds later the decline of a superstar that had just decided that his body had finally given him the sign.
This season hasn’t been one of Kobe’s finest and he will be the first to admit this. One thing that history has taught us in professional sports is that Father Time is undefeated. Inevitably even the greatest players age creeps up and their bodies are no longer able to do the things they could do during their prime.
Peyton Manning is going through this same drop off right now with similar results. Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and so many other legends saw a decline in their performance and durability at the tail end of their careers.
Kobe’s season average sits at 15.5 points per game, nearly 10 points below his career average of 25.5. His shooting percentages are also easily career lows as he is making barely over 30% of his 17 shot attempts per game.
Kevin Durant recently came out with criticism towards how the media is treating Kobe this season and this criticism is justified. Kobe is simply doing the only thing that he knows how to do and that is to try to lead his team to as many wins as possible. Unfortunately for him, his supporting cast isn’t very talented and is too young to compete on a night to night basis in the stacked Western Conference.
Combine the lack of talent with Kobe’s clear drop-off in physical ability and you end up with numbers that don’t look very pretty. The shots that used to fall, the moves that used to clear space, the leaping ability that used to be there just simply isn’t.
Dec 1, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) waves goodbye to fans at Wells Fargo Center after a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers won 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The media is using Kobe’s struggles as an easy story this year and for whatever reason Kobe has been the target of much negativity. Now that he is officially retiring at season’s end, its the media’s turn to change their tune and give this man the respect that he deserves. When Kobe walks off the floor following his final home game at Staples Center on April 13th, he will leave a void that will be felt league wide.
He won’t be remembered for his farewell season where he struggled shooting the ball and wasn’t winning games with an inexperienced team. He will be remembered as a transcendent player, one of the only players to ever be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan.
I could sit here all day and go through Kobe’s resume as a player, listing off many of his milestones and career totals. He was a 5-time NBA Champion, 2-time NBA Finals MVP, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, and currently sits third all-time in points scored. His numbers and his accolades speak for themselves and will hold up in any discussion among NBA legends.
November 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) shoots the basketball before the game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The thing that I will always remember about Kobe and what the NBA will miss the most was his competitive drive and will to win that really was only matched by Jordan. These two players are on a tier by themselves when it comes to what drove them to be the absolute best to ever put on a uniform. Tireless work ethic and a life consumed by the only thing that mattered to them, basketball.
A player like Kobe doesn’t come very often and there really isn’t another player in the league quite like him today. You can still see that the fire burns within him even though his body isn’t able to hold up to to the rigors of the NBA schedule.
His ferocious approach to winning basketball games and never accepting being second-best was his greatest quality and what will define his legacy. Not only was he a gifted scorer, a great defender, a champion, he was not going to let anyone work harder than he was and that is where he deserves the most respect.
I feel lucky as a fan to have been able to watch his entire career from being an 18-year old rookie in 1996, to the three-peat with the Lakers, to trying to will his team to victory at 37 years old.
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So thank you Kobe Bryant for giving us 20 years to watch the result of a lifetime of perfecting your craft. Your work ethic, determination, competitiveness, and desire to be the best is something that so many athletes can only dream about having. You will be missed but your legacy will continue on as one of the best to ever play the game of basketball.