Kobe Bryant is dead wrong.
A few hours before the Lakers closed out their worst season (record-wise) since moving to Los Angeles in 1960, Kobe made his feelings known on Twitter.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 16, 2014
I’m sorry, but no. With all due respect, Kobe, I won’t be forgetting about the 2013-14 Lakers anytime soon. This might be — no, not “might be,” is — my favorite Lakers squad of all time.
I fell in love with the Swagtime Lakers during their first preseason game. As soon as Nick Young put on the purple and gold, it looked like he’d been a Laker his whole career. It became impossible to imagine him ever playing for another team.
No player this season defined the entire essence of their team the way Swaggy P defined Swagtime. The concept of the Lakers as a bottom-feeder is so alien that when it happened, it couldn’t possibly be ordinary. If you remove the word “Lakers” from the jerseys, this team is a thoroughly uninteresting mishmash of aging, injured stars (Steve Nash and Pau Gasol), middling veterans (Chris Kaman), and scrap-heap reclamation projects (Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry). If this roster belonged to the Sacramento Kings, everyone but their most diehard fans would have stopped caring around January.
But these were the Lakers. They could be terrible, but being nondescript was never an option. They needed that touch of Hollywood. They needed the swag. They needed Swaggy P. Nick Young leading the Lakers in scoring during a down year was so logic, you wondered why it took this long to happen. Oh, right. Because the Lakers don’t have down years.
We knew what we were getting ourselves into when the Lakers signed Swaggy over the summer, but the universe still wasn’t adequately prepared for Nick Young in a Mike D’Antoni offense with free reign to shoot as much as he wanted. Nobody knew when Kobe was going to return from his Achilles rehab, but one thing was clear: whenever he did, he would have to bend his style to fit Nick Young’s. A new era in Los Angeles had begun. The Black Mamba’s knee only lasted six games, but the Swag Mamba’s swag was eternal.
When the Lakers came to Chicago to play the Bulls in January, I brought the “Swag Mamba” moniker to Young’s attention, and he wasn’t a fan. “I’m Swaggy P, baby!” he said. “I can’t be no Mamba.” Then he held up a bright red backpack that he probably bought on a shopping spree with Iggy Azaelea. “See the swag?”
Young had a point: It was impossible not to see the swag. But you don’t get to define your own nickname, unless you’re Kobe, who has so much money and so many rings that nobody can tell him his nickname isn’t “Vino” if he wakes up one day and decides it is. So as long as Young is a Laker (and honestly, they’d be nuts not to lock him up to a max-level extension this summer), he is the Swag Mamba.
Nobody knows what the immediate future holds for the Lakers. Gasol is probably gone. Nash might as well be. It’s unlikely D’Antoni will be back. Kobe signed a mammoth two-year extension that was simultaneously an insane overpay (he’ll be 36 and coming off two serious injuries) and an insane bargain (it’s impossible to put a big enough number on Kobe Bryant’s worth to the Lakers’ franchise). Things tend to work out for the Lakers, so Swagtime may end up being a placeholder before the start of the Andrew Wiggins era. Eras come and go. Kobe’s time is almost up at Staples, and the Wiggins/Love/Westbrook era looms on the horizon. But Swagtime is forever.