Final Thoughts on Kobe Bryant
As a young child growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, I didn’t really have a basketball team. There was no team that played down the street or in my city. There were the 76ers, who played about 45 minutes away from my house (and I got great pleasure out of watching Allen Iverson in his prime), but I never really treated the 76ers as “my team.” I had my favorite players growing up. Jason Kidd was my idol; I wore his New Jersey Nets jersey so much that it had accumulated several holes.
Going to elementary school, I used to always debate with my classmates about who the best player in the NBA was. Being a guilty partisan, I would always say “Jason Kidd” (remember, this was pre-LeBron James). Several of my other classmates would say it’s Tim Duncan (as an older and hopefully wiser man than I was in second grade, I agree with this one).
There would always be the obligatory answer for Kobe Bryant. I would disagree and put up a fight. “How many rings does Jason Kidd have?” they’d ask me. I’d quietly shrug and respond, “None.” For them, that was the end of the debate right there. By that point, Kobe had won two rings with the Los Angeles Lakers and was just entering into his prime. He was still wearing #8, and he still had something resembling a mini-afro as a hairstyle.
Eventually, as I continued to mature and Kobe went into his prime, I realized what a fool I had been. Jason Kidd was great, no doubt about it; he eventually won his much-deserved championship ring in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. He’s a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word, and he’s also carving out a path as one of the NBA’s better coaches.
But he wasn’t the best in the NBA. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Looking back at footage at the time (2002-2003), it was undeniable. Tim Duncan probably was in a pure basketball sense, but there was nobody in the league more exciting and dynamic than Kobe Bryant. Nobody.
His intensity could not be matched. The energy and fiery passion Kobe brought to the court night in and night out was unequaled, and I doubt we’ll ever see the likes of it again. He had a fire and an all-out determination to win every game. Every game was an NBA Finals game for Kobe; it didn’t matter if they were playing a pathetic team with ten wins or an elite team with fiftysomething. When Kobe Bryant stepped out onto the court, it was showtime.
Some of my fondest basketball memories revolved around watching Kobe in his prime, making shots that most players would not ever dare take. I still remember reading about the game where Kobe dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. At first, I thought it was a typo. I immediately turned on ESPN and saw the highlights; my god, he’d actually done it. Was there anything that could stop Kobe Bryant?
When the Lakers reached the NBA Finals in three consecutive years (2008-2010), they won two of the three. That was Kobe at his most intense (perhaps not at his all-time best, certainly at his most intense); after the Celtics beat the Lakers to take home the crown in ‘08, there was nothing that was going to keep Kobe from getting a ring in 2009. Bryant’s Lakers wiped the floor with Dwight Howard (his eventual teammate, and what a fiasco that was -- another story) and the Orlando Magic. Looking back, it’s amazing the Magic won one game in that series, although I think that’s a testament to Stan Van Gundy’s coaching more than anything.
After the 2010 Finals, which saw the Lakers beating the Celtics in seven games, it was steadily downhill for Kobe. After a failed attempt at building a “dream team” with Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace (now Panda’s Friend, formerly Ron Artest), Kobe’s career began to sputter out of control. He was injured often, but worse yet, when he was healthy, he was largely ineffective. Yes, Kobe Bryant had fallen victim to Father Time, who still remains undefeated and unstoppable. The Lakers are now a caricature of their former selves, and it hardly came as a surprise that after months of rumors, Kobe announced his retirement last Sunday.
While it’s easy to knock him around for his recent performances, one would have to look high and low to find a more exciting player than Kobe in his prime. And so as he retires, regardless of how you feel about him and the Los Angeles Lakers (and I admittedly am no Lakers fan and I never have been), give Kobe Bryant his due. When people talk about “the best players of their generation,” Kobe Bryant will undoubtedly be in the conversation for the best of his. Yes, it’s time for him to go, as he is a mediocre player now (which is an unfortunate but undeniable fact). But when I think about Kobe Bryant, I’ll always think about that dynamic young kid out of Lower Merion High School in Philly who took the NBA by storm nearly twenty years ago (Charlotte Hornets, what the hell were you thinking trading his rights to the Lakers?). I’ll think about the man who played with as much fire and competitiveness as I’ve seen in any sport, who delivered two of the finest NBA Finals performances in history (see 2001 and 2009).
And while I am by no means his biggest fan, I must give credit where credit is due. I salute you, Kobe Bryant, for all that you’ve done for the game of basketball. I extend my best wishes your way in retirement.
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