Today in the self-reporting news media cycle where journalists report on news players break themselves we found out that Los Angeles Lakers fan since the early 80s. And while many people are saying things like "I don't like him, but I respect him," I'm not going to do that. I don't like . And I still don't respect him. I didn't want him to call it a career so soon, because I was really enjoying him lose the battle between his body and his ego. He is going to be a first ballot hall of famer who, somehow, has as many championship rings as Magic Johnson. The ultimate me-first, wave-the-pick-off, I will play Isolation basketball guy has as many rings as the ultimate team-first guy. That's insane to me.is going to retire after this season is over. The writing was on the wall there, but selfishly I didn't want to see him hang it up. Now, don't get me wrong, I haven't been a
I never accepted Kobe's game as great. I couldn't understand why he didn't pass the damn ball to Shaquille O'Neal more. I didn't think it was smart for him to shoot more than 26 times a game while making 43% of his shots -- like he did in the playoffs that one year. But it doesn't matter what I think. Everyone else sees greatness from selfishness and inefficiency. And from now on until the summer you will be reading articles from people kissing his butt from (*) here to Honolulu. If that's the feel good sports story you want to spend your time reading I would thank you for reading this far down, and suggest you navigate your browser somewhere else.
Kobe isn't the last of some noble, dying breed. He's not a throwback to a better time. He was part of the vanguard that killed that more nobler basketball period. Guys like him and , and , this seemingly unending deluge of shoot first / me first guards are from the first wave of this new period of basketball. An Air-ball your teammate rebounds and puts in the basket isn't something heroic to celebrate. When that happened to John Stockton once and made the game winner I felt bad that Stockton didn't make the shot. Today we call this the "Kobe Assist."
And the Kobe Assist is a direct consequence of the Kobe System. Who is so self-absorbed to agree to a marketing campaign that marginalizes the strategies of your coaches and sweeps the efforts of your teammates under the table? If Kobe lands in Corie Blount's hometown and calls him up and says he needs a lift does Corie do it? If the situation is Magic Johnson calling Mike Smrek for a lift you bet Smrek is grabbing his keys.
Being great isn't just having people tell the world you are. Being a leader doesn't mean you are so ego driven that you must take the last shot, regardless of what the defense is presenting. These are two areas where Kobe really fails. While Kobe retiring isn't directly inviting comparisons to Magic Johnson I feel it is necessary to educate people about two really telling playoff moments.
I don't remember which game of which round this happened in, but the Showtime Lakers were in a jam. It was a game too close to call, and the lead was almost fictitious in nature. With time running down the Lakers got one last stop, and the ball got into hands. If he held onto it he would surely have been fouled. Magic is a career 85% free throw shooter and once led the league at 91% during his peak. The best player on the floor had the ball in his hands with the game in the balance. Do you know what he did? He didn't wait to get fouled - because he understood that by sending him to the line he could have missed both, and the other team could have still had enough time to win the game. It was unlikely, but he put the needs of the team ahead of his own ego ("I'm going to make these shots) or statistical probability ("If I miss one, they still need an improbable sequence of events to win . . . but it could happen"). He saw where the defense was, he took stock of the situation, knew how much time was on the clock, and he just lobbed the ball towards the other end of the court. No one could touch that ball, and time ran out before anyone got close. Buzzer sounded. Ball bounced out of bounds. Lakers win. He won the game on, effectively, a turn over. It was the ultimate decision in a close game. And nothing I have seen since then has come close to that level of basketball IQ. He didn't try to be the hero. He did what was absolutely necessary to make sure his team won the game.
That moment was Magical. The opposite of that moment happened in the first round of the 2007 Western Conference Playoffs. The Lakers were getting throttled by the Suns, who would eventually win a gentleman's sweep. That Game 5 was pretty much the ultimate Kobe moment for me. He played 46 minutes and scored 34 points on 33 shots. He had one assist. This was back during his "Trade Andrew Bynum for " days. He completely shut down in the second half. During a crucial moment in the fourth - the Lakers could have gone on a run - got the ball at the top of the arc and initiated the offense. He found Kobe, and passed him the ball. Kobe got it, scowled, and almost immediately just shoveled it back to Walton. He wasn't even trying to keep his team in it. And he wasn't even trying to make life easier for his team mates. He got his shots. He got his points. His summer vacation had already started. He wasn't going to even drive the ball and draw the defense to him. Walton ended up taking a well defended shot - one that would have been wide open if Kobe instead decided to dribble twice before passing it back to Luke.
Yes. Kobe has won rings. Kobe has made game winners. Kobe has been the visible face of that franchise over countless playoff games, playoff games that my own Utah Jazz hasn't seen much of lately. I'm not bitter about Kobe being "good". I'm not bitter at all. I just don't like his mentality. I don't like how he plays. And I really don't like how he ushered in this new era of me-first basketball.
Kobe has torched the Jazz over his career, and I'm fine with that too. Part of the gameplan was to have Kobe go nuts and not involve his teammates. Kobe has played the Jazz 81 times over his career (regular season and playoffs cumulative) and will play them four more times this season. Over those 81 games Kobe has put up superb averages 25.02 ppg (.4532 .3289 .8279), 4.44 rpg, 4.40 apg, 1.41 spg, 0.52 bpg in 35.49 mpg. He's surprisingly efficient, scoring 1.42 points per shot, his 17.54 FGA is heavily counter balanced by his career 9.54 FTA. In the games the Jazz won against Kobe, and for the record the record is 46-35, his shooting frequency and inefficiency dried up the rest of the Lakers. Almost as if Kobe's own strengths could easily be coaxed into his team's greatest weakness.
It's interesting that the foundation for the mythology of Kobe partly builds upon his airballs in the playoffs against the Jazz. His last game (unless the Lakers make the playoffs) will be against them as well. I can expect his farewell game to be one where he gets to the line as much as he wants. (Though, I don't think it will be enough to give him the 4259 points he needs to displace Karl Malone on the All-Time career scoring list.)
It's going to be fun to see if he's even healthy enough to play in that game - but I guess he can take parts of this season off during it, and no one would care.
Kobe retiring is not a time to celebrate a historical legend. Yes, he's a historically significant player, but rather he's really the icon of the millennial generation NBA fan. It's about him. It's always been about him. And he will make sure that this NBA season - one where his team may limp to 25 wins - will be as well. Kobe put up a lot of stats. He sure did. I'm going to be sad to see you go, though. Not because I will ever be a fan of Bryant. But precisely because I am not a fan of Bryant, I wanted to see him tarnish his own image even more than you already have. (I know, being a ‘hater' is another archaic personality trait I have with all the other dinosaurs who grew up watching team basketball, and actual rivalries that mattered - and not players celebrating holidays with people on other teams.)
For all the Lakers fans, saying goodbye to Kobe is a great start towards healing your franchise. also needs to go, but this is something you and I are in agreement with. The NBA is at its' best when the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are good. A post-Kobe Lakers has the possibility to be one down the road. I'm very surprised he won five rings. I never ever felt like his playing style was demonstrative of the right way to win. The public self-reported pre-retirement media campaign? That's a great parting shot worth of the Kobe System. For me it's an air ball, but the media will pick it up and put it in the basket for him - The Kobe Assist.
Kobe, you won. But I still don't like you. And I still don't respect you. All of your fans, including thousands in the media, have circled that April 13th game on their calendars now. So have the Utah Jazz. Alec Burks is going to devour your soul. Again.
I wish you all the best for the rest of your life Kobe. Hope in your retirement you shift your focus from "me" to "we", and maybe pick up some of the great community and moral infrastructure building projects that Magic Johnson has dominated since he hung it up. Follow in his footsteps, not Michael Jordan's. For once.