Resume: 27.9 points (2nd in league), 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 38.5 minutes (4th in league), 381 free throws made (3rd in league), 451 free throw attempts (6th in league), 43% FG, 30% 3PT, 85% FT… Team record in games played: 36-22 (5-3 without)… Playoffs: 30.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 39.7 minutes, 44% FG, 83% FT, 5-7 record… All-Star, 4th in MVP Voting, 2nd Team All-Defense, 1st Team All-NBA
Here are the phrases I’m going to try to avoid for the next 700 or so words so I can focus on the more important point of this piece: Kobe Face, Michael Jordan, 81 points, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I can go forward with the main point of this whole thing. Kobe Bryant is 34 years old and has logged 51,018 minutes of regular season and playoff NBA basketball. This doesn’t include the time he spent playing for Team USA, his pre-season minutes and the thousands of hours he’s likely spent honing his skills in the offseason. He’s endured countless injuries in his 16 year career: sprained ankles, torn ligaments in his wrist, a shoulder injury that required surgery, a fractured right index finger and knee troubles. Despite the constant pain, abundance of minutes, and never ending criticism (he’s absorbed more than anyone except LeBron James over the last decade or so), Kobe Bryant remains one of the very best players in the NBA. I have Kobe Bryant ranked 6th on my top 50 list, but let me relate back to a point I’ve made before, one that I stole from Bill Simmons.
In a giant pickup game with every player available and two knowledgeable fans forced to pick five-man teams, with their lives depending on the game’s outcome, what would be the order of the players picked, based on this season alone?
I won’t get into the breakdown of how I’d expect the picks to pan out, but we can probably agree on two things:
1.) LeBron James would be the number one pick
2.) You’d be absolutely terrified that your life was about to end if Kobe Bryant wasn’t on your team
Let’s assume that there was a week between the time you picked the teams and the time the game was played, so that way the teams had time to practice together, talk to the media, etc. I know, this just went from a pick-up game to a very intriguing Friday night for ESPN. I feel like I’d be having a lot of trouble sleeping for that week because Kobe was feasting on the stories that were leaking out about how I didn’t pick him. I can just picture Kobe staying late after practice and taking extra jump shots, just thinking about the joy he is going to take in being an integral role in ending my life.
I just painted a pretty interesting picture comparing Kobe Bryant to a homicidal hyper-competitive maniac and that actually isn’t too far off. By all accounts Kobe Bryant is the most blood thirsty professional athlete still actively participating in his sport, and you could argue that this is what keeps him in this discussion for top players in the NBA (along with a killer jump shot, trusty low post game, incredible clutch gene, etc.). The question now becomes whether or not Kobe can harness that competitive fire in a way that could help the Lakers succeed. With the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, a burden would seemingly be lifted off of the back of Kobe Bryant, who last year had to do way too much for the Lakers. Can the Lakers manage to limit Kobe’s minutes? Will he accept not always having the ball in his hands late in a close game? Will he be able to keep Dwight Howard happy? The Los Angeles Lakers are full of question marks, and Kobe might as well be dressed like The Riddler. So many questions about how will interact with teammates, how his game will change and what his legacy will look like when it is all said and done. Yes, the legacy. I said I wasn’t going to bring up Micha— His Airness— but with Kobe supposedly having just two years left in the league, it’s a question that will start coming to the surface more and more. It’s a different conversation for another time, but just know that Kobe Bryant is chasing that elusive 6th NBA Championship ring, and God help whoever gets in his way.
Tomorrow there will be no post, but the countdown will be continuing on Friday with a look at numbers 4 and 5 of the rankings!