By MICHAEL DAY
Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players to ever wear a Lakers uniform, retired from the National Basketball Association after playing his last game on Wednesday, 13 April 2016. He entered the league as a teenager and left a grizzled veteran of 20 NBA seasons. Unfortunately, even Kobe’s fierce competitiveness was unable to keep Father Time at bay, and as life moved on for us regular humans, the supreme athlete who was able to perform great physical feats was rendered mortal as well. Part of me is sad because Kobe’s retirement is a time marker for me, too—I remember vividly his first couple of seasons, and now his body has aged to the point where he can no longer do the thing that he loved best, which was obviously to play basketball in the NBA. The other part of me, the more critical side is glad that with Kobe’s retirement, maybe the desire for the budding NBA stars to “Be Like Mike” will finally end.
First and foremost, no one can deny Kobe Bryant’s dominance as a basketball player: five titles, MVP award, 18-time NBA All-Star, and a guaranteed future Hall of Fame member – this is only the tip of the iceberg for accolades. Not convinced? Check out this basketball reference page for more of Kobe’s accomplishments. http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bryanko01.html
Next, no one can fault his will to win, or the “killer instinct” as people like to point out as a prerequisite for greatness. In fact, a few years ago on Bill Simmons’ ESPN podcast, the BS Report, Larry Bird—another “win-at-all-cost” player named Kobe as the person he would pick as a teammate from the current NBA player rosters. Larry Legend, Boston Celtic Hero, endorsed a Laker – let that sink in for a bit.
He was a fantastic one-versus-one player, “It’s what I do,” he said when asked how he would fare against LeBron James in a one-v-one matchup. This skill paid dividends anytime the Lakers needed to score before the shot clock settled on zero. Arguably, his skills were a one-to-one match for Michael Jordan in every possible way, including the leadership style – ya know, chew everyone’s a** all the time. Maybe he was too much like Jordan, and this is where my love for his game wanes.
The NBA was Michael Jordan’s footstool while he played, and for quite a few fans, columnists, coaches, and the random fan who only tunes in when nothing else is on, this fact hasn’t changed. Is it any wonder that players still try to become the next Michael Jordan when everyone still seems to yearn for Jordan? Yes, Michael Jordan was everything any team could want from its best player, and yes, he’s probably the greatest of all time (if there is such a thing). However, there are other ways to play basketball. I’ll take Spurs and Warriors playing style, or give me Magic Johnson’s decision-making and passing from a pick-and-roll play over the isolation ball favored by Jordan and then carried on by Kobe.
Perhaps, due to the fact that Kobe’s final lap around the NBA track gave people plenty of time to reminisce about Kobe’s career, the focus centered on the amazing talent while forgetting the selfish, single-minded basketball playing Kobe that helped bring down a Lakers dynasty by pushing Shaq out. (Those lost titles – I bet that is still a bitter taste for Laker fans.) Oh, and his latest contract wasn’t bad for a man who was a shell of himself. He was the leagues highest salaried player. (http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/10034589/kobe-bryant-signs-two-year-contract-extension-los-angeles-lakers) This was after the achilles injury, too. Oh, and I am sure the younger players loved to stand around and watch Kobe hoist shot after shot. More and more podcasts streamed questions such as, “Who is the real Kobe Bryant”, or “What is Kobe really thinking in his head?”
Didn’t he already answer those questions?
He was a player I loved to root against, but also a player I feared every time he touched the ball against the team I rooted for, which was quite often. I liked watching him play defense during his peak years, and he possessed a beautiful turn around jumper that was practically unstoppable. I rank him as the second best Laker of all time, right behind Magic Johnson. (You see, there is this thing called an assist that gets other teammates involved which also helps win games.)
I hope Kobe enjoys retirement. He was a great basketball player, a singleton process built to win basketball games by being the best player on the court, and I hope he finds something else to fire the competitive drive buried deep down in his soul. With his retirement, it is also my hope that the league’s prominent players stem from Magic Johnson to LeBron James to …