I’ve seen it before.
No time left, Lakers trailing by two. Kobe dribbles baseline into a triple team. The ball bounces off his foot and out of bounds. The Lakers lose.
This is what happens when Kobe has to do it alone. Or when he thinks he has to do it alone. Or when he feels his MVP status slipping away.
It is true; Kobe has been a team player as of late. But the fact that it is worthy of comment demonstrates how futile those efforts have been in the past.
The Gasol trade was good for the Lakers. Kobe had someone he could trust. It’s not that his other teammates were not worthy of trust. Just that Kobe didn’t seem to trust them.
With Gasol out, it is time for that monumental lifting of his team onto Kobe’s broad shoulders. He must carry them until Pau returns. Or must he?
Growing up, Kobe lived a good chunk of his youth in Italy. Kobe's father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant played professional ball in the Italian league. This was before the Internet, before DIRECTV, heck, we barely had VHS.
In addition to watching his Dad, Kobe mostly saw basketball on video tapes shipped to Italy by his American relatives. These tapes, more often than not, were of the phenom of that era, a young Michael Jordan.
Kobe was dazzled by the most talented player in the league. Those tapes also showed Michael losing year after year—struggling in the playoffs. Jordan was 1985’s NBA Rookie of the Year. He was named four times to the All-NBA First Team, and three times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. But he had yet to win a title.
Then, the video showed something different. In the 1991 Finals, Michael had a great series: averaging 31.2 points, 11.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game. But he had something much more…a team he could trust.
By 1991, the Bulls added John Paxson, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, and B.J. Armstrong. And Michael brought in a new attitude. Gone was his purported mindset that while there is no “I” in team, there is in win. Michael was willing to share the ball. And that willingness earned him something else…more opportunity.
When the Lakers were forced to play defense against all five Bulls on the floor, Michael was free to fly like never before.
In 1991, the Bulls beat the Lakers in five games, winning their franchise's first title.
Is it possible that Kobe thinks he is better than Jordan? Possibly.
Is he? No.
Kobe could be though. But first he needs to go beyond being a great individual player and become a great team player.
He did it once. There wasn’t anything better than watching a lob pass from Bryant to O’Neal, followed by a monster jam. Or Shaq in the post, double teamed, kicking it out to Bryant for an open three.
And when they were not passing to each other, Fisher or Horry were taking the big shots at the buzzer. The ball didn’t have to stay in Kobe’s clutches. And the Lakers would win.
When Kobe does that again, the rules will change. Teams will devise entire strategies only employed while playing against the Lakers.
The Pistons had the “Jordan Rules”. The whole league played “Hack-A-Shaq”. Right now, the best strategy for beating Kobe is the "get out of his way, he’ll beat himself" plan.
Kobe has his Armstrong, Grant, and Paxson in Farmar, Odom, and Fisher. And his Cartwright and Pippen will be back soon when Bynum and Gasol return from injury.
Hey Kobe, BE LIKE MIKE. Be a team player. Be patient. And for the fans' sake, trust the other guys.
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