|During a bad season, it seems that Kobe Bryant is|
enjoying every minute of it.
We all get older. This summer, your's truly will hit that magical 40 mark. In life, you are hitting that middle age point where kids don't need you as much and you've got a bit more time on your hands and you realize that that guy you were in high school is long gone.
In sports, getting older isn't as graceful. A (nearly) 40-year old like me still has a spot in this world. In sports, an expensive, aging superstar can be somewhat of an albatross to an organization or the league as a whole. That's why it wasn't fun seeing Shaquille O'Neal bounce from team to team in his final seasons to chug up and down the court. Or Patrick Ewing in a SuperSonics jersey. Or it hit people hard when Peyton Manning was throwing ducks in the Broncos playoff loss to the Colts ... who imploy the next Peyton Manning in Andrew Luck.
Which brings me to Kobe Bryant. Full disclosure, I am a Lakers fan. I've been one since the early Showtime era when the only NBA that was on television were two Sunday games that involved the Lakers, Celtics or Sixers. Needless to say, it's sad to see Kobe on his way out the door and how bad the Lakers are during this time.
Kobe Bryant represents so much to Laker fans and the NBA. He was the closest thing to Michael Jordan we've had. He could do everything and he was as fierce a competitor as anyone who has ever stepped on an NBA court. Who else could blow out their Achilles and still step up to the free throw line in a close game and knock down two free throws before shuffling off the court and missing the rest of the season? He won five titles in two different stretches for the Lakers. He was the young guy in those Shaq-Kobe teams at the beginning of the century that won three straight rings ... and was the Man who carried them to two more titles nearly a decade later. When you think back to all the greats the Lakers have had, the fact that Kobe owns many of the franchise records should blow your mind.
This year isn't mind-blowing. Well, not often. Kobe isn't himself anymore. The guy who shot those free throws while his heel was on fire now rarely plays in back-to-back games. The guy who carried the load now can go 5-for-31 shooting in a two game stretch. Two weeks ago, he scored just four points against the Clippers. He has scored over 30 points just six times this season and only once since November ended. Of course he's getting old and won't be able to be the same guy. But it is tough to see.
Of course, he has scored 44 points once. And he set his career high in assists with 17 against the Cavaliers last week. He even hit a game winner against the Pacers a few weeks back. And in that game against the Cavaliers, Kobe had a great exchange with LeBron James late in the contest. Sometimes it is there.
The thing is, Kobe now seems to know it's not. Kobe is cherishing these moments ... like the one against LeBron. In years past, he'd have that Kobe Face on and wouldn't let friendships or the moment to enter in his play. Now? He spent much of the game chatting and laughing with LeBron as if it were a pick-up game.
In a season where the Lakers are 12-29, I'm glad to see that. I'd hate to see Kobe frustrated at his own declining skills and his team's competitiveness in an always strong Western Conference. With his own fire, it could have easily went that way. It is nice to see him enjoying that last tour of the NBA ... if this is his last.
The Lakers aren't gunning for a championship and barring a miracle, they won't sniff the playoffs. That is sad. But, as a Laker fan, I understand that the NBA works like this where you usually have to bottom out before things come back around for you. At least I get to see one of the greatest to ever play make his final rounds. I just hope the rumors aren't true and the Lakers aren't looking to shut Kobe down for the remainder of the season (unless it is indeed to get him fresh for that goodbye season next year).
Last September, I penned an article about the Derek Jeter retirement tour. I don't want Kobe to get the same thing where gifts and all of that are given to him at every stop like Jeter or former Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had. However, I'd like to see Kobe play one more season and play in those games that we would love to see him in. Against LeBron. Against Wade. At Madison Square Garden. In Philly. Against those Spurs. Against those Suns. In Boston. The fans would love it. The league would love it. Kobe would love it.
No rocking chairs. No frames jerseys or photos. No pieces of the floor. Just Kobe, the basketball and the crowd.
That's what he would want.