The Curious Case of Kobe Bryant: Is the Los Angeles Lakers Star Playing Younger?

Bryce ShermanContributor IIFebruary 7, 2012

“It doesn’t matter.  Father Time is undefeated,” Charles Barkley announced early in the season during halftime at a Lakers/Jazz game. 

Chuck, of course, was referring to Kobe Bryant and the procedure he had performed in Germany on his knee during the offseason.  Barkley was predictably predicting that Kobe would see a significant decline in his game and simply would not be able to compete at the highest levels any longer. 

Is anyone else tired of this?  How many times does Kobe have to prove everyone wrong before they stop doubting him? 

After more than 20 games to start the season, we are seeing a Kobe that looks spryer than he’s looked in years and a player whose numbers are tremendously impressive.  Admittedly, the season is unique in its density and format, but so far he is averaging statistics better than his career averages at 30.0 points, 5.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game.  He also just surpassed Shaquille O’Neal in total career points. 

So show us the signs of aging you keep rambling on about, Chuck.

Look, the thing about Kobe is he scares people.  The NBA can’t have anybody threaten the great Michael Jordan, and with Kobe on the precipice of matching his championship total in the next several years and on pace to eclipse his career scoring numbers, he’s building a solid case to challenge His Airness. 

I’m not claiming Kobe is the “Greatest of All Time"—his career is incomplete and therefore cannot yet be evaluated.  It would be a disservice to Kobe, like judging Michelangelo’s David when he was only three-fourths complete.  So this is not a discussion about who the superior player is, though Jordan is an obvious reference point for Kobe and the comparisons are inevitable. 

Except, apparently, when it comes to age. 

Many NBA analysts and fans alike consider Jordan’s ’96 Bulls the greatest of his championship teams.  Jordan was born Feb. 17, 1963, making him 33 years old when he won his fourth title in June of 1996. 

Kobe Bean Bryant was born Aug. 23, 1978, making him exactly 33 years old for the rest of this NBA season. 

So at this age Jordan had enough in the tank to put together the best performance and most impressive season of his career.  He then had enough to go on and win two more championships over the next two years, winning his last at the apparently ancient age of 35.  From the way Barkley and others talk about Kobe’s age it is shocking that Jordan did not need the aid of a walker when working the fast break in ’98.

While it is more than evident I am exaggerating, I’m not the only one prone to hyperbole.  Barkley has been harping on Kobe’s inability to overcome his age for the last three seasons, yet he has managed to lead his team to two championships and has won the Finals MVP in both of those victories during that three-year span.

There is no question that age eventually catches up to everyone. 

Not to point to Jordan again, but watching him return from retirement a second time was like watching a figure skater fall.  He should have known when to leave good enough alone.  His exit from the sport after his sixth championship was some of the most perfect timing we’ve seen from an athlete in any sport.  His return to play for the Wizards, a team he had been part owner of, was ill-advised and showed the effects of time that Barkley is referring to. 

But Kobe is not there yet.  He looks spry and motivated.  He has not had the kind of time off he had this last offseason since the last time there was a lockout in the NBA, giving his body the time it has needed in the past to heal.  That time is something he has not previously had and yet he’s been able to overcome the bumps and bruises and wear and tear on his body and go to the Finals in three of the last four seasons.  How dangerous might he be now that he’s had that time to heal?

The season is still relatively young and a lot could happen to alter the face of the league before this shortened season comes to an end.  A lot could change before the March 15 trade deadline.  It is too soon to know how it will end and who will be competing to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy and a banner come summertime. 

But c’mon, Chuck, let’s not count Kobe out yet.  By your own admission, he’s one of the five greatest players of all time—doesn’t that win him any benefit of the doubt? 

Father Time may be a worthy adversary and on a long enough timeline he is certainly, without exception, victorious.  But undefeated?  I think a few players have won a game or two, don’t you?