With all eyes on the NBA Finals, somewhere off the map Kobe Bryant is furiously rehabbing from back-to-back serious injuries.
He is doing this because he is one of the most competitive human beings on the planet, and because he wants to prove the people who claim he is finished wrong. Having a two-year contract worth close to $50 million to come back to doesn’t hurt either.
Coming back from Achilles and knee injuries to be the Los Angeles Lakers’ best player is what drives Bryant at this point, as he looks to cement another chapter into one of the best careers of all time. As great as all of this sounds, somebody needs to sit down and tell Kobe that things are never going to be the same again, and that this is OK.
For me, I heard about Kobe Bryant long before I knew who he was and what his accomplishments were. Living as I do in Dublin, Ireland, I cared so little about basketball growing up. That changed when I visited my aunt and uncle in New York in 2005. I was allowed to pick one jersey in the NBA Store, and went with a Sacramento Kings one.
From there, my love for basketball grew, as I tried to find out all I could about the Kings and basketball in general.
Well, their history wasn’t great, not least because the Lakers constantly had their number year after year. I searched long and hard for and watched old games of the Kings being frustrated by Bryant, Shaq and the Lakers.
This was my first real experience of just how impressive Kobe was as a player. In those days he really did it all. You have to remember also that I was born the year Jordan won his first title, and had never seen him play live, so seeing Bryant in full flow was truly magical as it was new to me.
From there my love for the game grew, but living where I did made watching games hard. I made a conscious effort to watch the 2009 NBA Finals though, and in that series, but more so the 2010 Finals, I saw what Bryant was truly capable of.
That will was unlike anything I had ever seen before, or probably since. He simply would not lose to the Boston Celtics, as he won his fifth title. Fast forward to today, and it is that will that drives Bryant still, but looking at the bigger picture as I now can, it could ultimately lead to his downfall.
He wants to return to former glories, but those days are gone. Signing that two year contract may have been reward for all that he has done before, but surely it will hinder the team’s ability to move forward?
More than that, it will scare potential free agents to join the team too. You see Bryant still wants to be ‘the guy’ and in doing so, has probably turned off players like Carmelo Anthony who would love nothing more than to own L.A. If Bryant would just take a back seat, then maybe he would get another shot at that sixth title he so desperately craves before he retires.
And yet, despite all of that, I still love the guy for it. There is no question he is damaging his team with his insistence on being No. 1, but I don’t believe it’s for any selfish reasons.
Bryant still truly thinks he can rise once more to be the best player in the league, and that will and belief is astounding. His single-mindedness and relentlessness to put the team on his back and lead it up the mountain again is something that, at least personally, I am not used to. More than that, the optimist in me wants to see him make a massive return, and at he very least be the reason this team makes it back to the playoffs next year.
But then the realist in me, the person who, as an Orlando Magic fan, has seen more bad times than good in recent years, rears it’s head. Having grown up and realized that sports doesn’t always give you the happy ending or even the right ending, I now see that Bryant simply can’t return to former glories all by himself. He is too beat up physically, too headstrong mentally and also a part of an organization that is caught in the purgatory of trying to rebuild, but not being able to properly given their location and the fact Bryant is on the roster.
He’ll retire a Laker, and that is fitting in itself, but it will also mean that the team will not be able to move on into a new era until he is gone.
Kobe Bryant is unlike any player I have ever known. I love what he can do on the court, but hate that it has come against a team that I was rooting for. That is about the greatest compliment you can pay a player really, loving, hating and respecting them in equal measure.
He is too old to change his ways, but that is a shame because if he did, he might actually go out in some sort of glory. He’ll stick to his guns though, and given what he has done for the Lakers, that is allowed too. If somebody could just get in his head though and change his outlook on coming back from injury and trying to be the best again, dare I say even convince him to come off the bench, then we might actually see the Mamba we remember.
Only this time it would be in small, concentrated, nostalgia inducing bursts through medically advised minutes.