“Lakers Legend Leaves Us”
It was always about the drama.
The drama of the great player. The drama of the complex person. The drama of his relationships.
It’s ending badly for Kobe Bryant, a broken down player on a broken down franchise. No one wants to go out on a (16-65) team, and that is what his team has become.
How do we remember Kobe Bryant? There are many chapters in the book and his chapters are full of great stories, troubling times, lots of accomplishments, and very few failures.
In a sport where history writes about statistical accomplishments, there are many for the Italian born son of former NBA player Joe ‘Jelly Bean’ Bryant.
No one will ever forget the 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, a night when he would not be stopped. The final line was (28-46) shooting….7-3-point baskets, and (18-for-20) from the free throw line.
Yes there was the 100-point Wilt Chamberlain game for the old Philadephia Warriors, and a bunch of 50-and-60 point games in the Michael Jordan era, but this was a modern day high water mark.
Kobe was the modern day Jordan. 5-NBA Championship rings, 2-NBA Finals-MVP honors, 4-times the NBA scoring champion, and 18-All Star Game appearances.
Who could have imagined this greatness, when then-Lakers GM-Jerry West convinced the Charlotte Hornets to trade the draft rights to the 18-year old Bryant to LA for veteran center Vlade Divac. And talk about a Babe Ruth type trade, that continued the Lakers tradition.
It has been hard to watch Father Time collect the tolls on the off-ramp at the end of Bryant’s career. Torn Achilles, torn labrum in the shoulder, knee surgery.
History should write about all his personality clashes. Not so much on the court, those legendary matchups with the Celtics and Knicks, Dirk Nowitzke and Karl Malone, but what transpired in his own locker-room.
They look back now, and realize if they had stayed together, they might have won a bunch more NBA rings, they being Bryant and Shaq O’Neal.
But there was always the drama, whose team was it really, Kobe or Shaq’s. It led to a nasty divorce. Shaq yelling at Jerry Buss in court-side seats, “Pay Me”. Kobe wanting max salaries and even casting glances at the team across the hallway, the woeful Clippers.
It always seemed everyday was something else in a Lakers soap opera of “Love Me-Love Me Not”.
And then there were the coaches, the war of wills with ‘Big Chief Triangle’, the ‘Zen Master’ Phil Jackson. Teaching moments, books to read, philosophical talks to have. Today the respect between them is enormous. There were many days, and many games, it was not during that coaching-player run.
There was the endless debate of how Phil-Jax should use Kobe, firepower or facilitator? There were scoring outbursts, and the night vs the Kings he didn’t take a shot, sending a message to the coach, “see what happens if I don’t score”. It was defiance for sure from someone so dominant.
There were prickly relationships with Coaches, from Del Harris thru the mess with Rudy T-Mike Brown and others.
And in the midst of his own off the court mistakes, he threw his teammate Shaq under the bus, with public inferences of O’Neal and his affairs.
There were so many other incidents too, including ‘Cowbell Hell’ in Sacramento, and the NBA All Star game when Karl Malone and others froze him out, not letting him shoot, when he was launching airballs.
But when other great players, from Alan Iverson to Patrick Ewing, Dennis Rodman to Wal Frazier, Bird to Jordan, heap praises daily on him, you know they knew the greatness and the respect directed at the person-player.
He impacted the game here, and surely the NBA global game, whether it was Italy, China, Japan or the Olympics.
There was no denying his skill set. Bryant was a combination of Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson.
The drama of who he was and how he acted, hit him like a technical foul in his personal life.
It all spilled into a Hotel room in Colorado, the sexual incident with a hotel employee. That court case settled out of court, and the price being amongst other things, a 4M ring to his wife Vanessa, and the public apology press conference in LA.
He became a better man at the point, matching the greatness of the player.
How do you describe Kobe Bryant?
Fearless, precocious, high maintenance, driven, dynamic, inspirational, and above all, loyal, to the Purple and Gold.
20-years of watching this. I doubt we’ll ever see that again in the NBA.