After a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers (my favorite sports team) Kobe Bryant announced that he’s retiring at the end of this season.
There’s an unofficial tradition in my family: picking a Laker to have a love/hate during his career. My uncle always complained about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. My dad couldn’t stand Magic Johnson.
Kobe was my love/hate Laker.
When things went bad, he was a ball hog, a player who didn’t play the game the right way, and a diva that would sabotage team goals in order to score more points or try to be the hero.
When things went well, he was basically Jordan 2.0.
His greatest individual moment was the perfect example of his good/bad: he scored the second-most points in NBA history, 81, on the same night where he dished out two assists. Two assists by one of the all-time greats on a night he was virtually unstoppable?
As someone who came of age when Magic could completely dominate a game without taking a shot, I saw this as one of the greatest sins a player could commit: not sharing the ball.
And yet, I remember that night, completely blown away by his shooting display (and the fact that the Raptors never double-teamed him). It showed everything good and bad about Kobe. His greatness was never in question; his commitment to playing the game the right way was. It’s why, even as a diehard Laker fan, I’d rather watch LeBron James. He’s the one who took the torch from Magic when it came to playing the game the way I watched it in the ’80s. A player who used his talent to make his teammates better.
Kobe was the closest thing we’ve seen to Jordan. He forced his teammates to bend to his will through his unparalleled dedication and preparation to the game he loved.
For me, his greatest display was during the 2001 playoff run, when the Lakers defeated three straight 50-win teams, going 15-1 in the postseason. The way they demolished the favored San Antonio Spurs was spectacular: Shaq and Kobe at their peak playing-powers, a modern Wilt-Jordan combination with the perfect set of complementary players and the best coach in NBA history.
Kobe played perfectly during that run, scoring at will yet doing all of the things a great teammate does: share the ball, rebound, and defend the opposition, but most importantly he made everyone better
It’s a shame that he and Shaq couldn’t work things out because I’d be writing about one of the all-time great players from the Greatest NBA Team Ever.
Instead, I’m appreciating one of the greatest to ever play the game (and one of the top five guards in history: MJ, Magic, Kobe, West, and The Big O) who was part of one of the most incredible postseason runs ever.