Leave it to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers to steal the headlines with a Hollywood cast of stars who have thus far been a colossal flop. Will the return of Steve Nash be the Christmas miracle that sends the Lakers back to the long and winding championship road?
Talent has never been the problem for Anthony. In the 10 years following his Syracuse Orange championship season, he has often displayed hall-of-fame brilliance and clutch play. His sinewy limbs and length could fling a basketball from virtually any spot on the floor, defenders notwithstanding. At his best, he is a matchup seemingly impossible to thwart.
Talent rarely follows the script. While it’s true that Anthony has had a merry-go-round of teammates from the Rocky Mountains to the New York Islands, basketball observers have increasingly questioned his drive, selfishness and reluctance to play defense.
A decade passes swiftly and the years of an NBA superstar can drain away like sand in a sieve. Suddenly they are holding onto their prime, desperately hoping to mesh with the right kinds of teammates and hoping their window of opportunity lets in a few more seasons.
It’s now or never for Anthony.
Other great players have long ago established the particular list that also bears Anthony’s name. He is penciled in for now, but with still time to join the more elite club. It’s not disgraceful to be in the conversation with the likes of Elgin Baylor, Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, George Gervin, Alex English, Dominique Wilkins, Chris Webber, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone.
But it would be nice to taste the champagne, smooth and mellow, forever satisfying.
What Anthony wouldn’t give now to take his team to the top, in New York where Knicks fans have spent four decades waiting and mostly lamenting their few opportunities for glory.
Would it be too much to join the ranks of Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Rick Barry, Isiah Thomas, Dirk Nnowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Lebron James? How did these players turn their prime and latter years into immortality?
Talent has perhaps been too much the problem for Bryant. From his NBA inception, he has challenged and surmounted all manner of barriers that would keep him from being the man in Los Angeles, even if it meant alienating teammates.
It’s been over eight years since the divorce with Shaquile O’Neal, but the bitterness still lingers in the bituminous air each Christmas as a reminder of his legacy.
Championship success has been assured twice since, but not without Pyrrhic relationships.
The Lakers have accumulated their usual glut of talent including new arrivals Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to fit in with enigmatic Pau Gasol. The early previews have been disastrous, with coaching systems and old players often hot topics for finger pointing.
Bryant? He is both the shining star and the instigator. In times of turmoil he has shown his amazing mentality to score and score some more. It gives him the power to assert his dominance over teammates when it’s time for heads to roll.
Meanwhile, if Bryant’s teammates are struggling nobody can say that Bryant has not done his job with nearly 30 points per game. Never mind the verbal jabs at Gasol and Howard or the lack of chemistry. Bryant will bark and bite, but he has never been the one to sacrifice his game to lift anyone above his own shoulders.
Stockings and Coal
It’s just one game, but Christmas delivers a national audience salivating for main event basketball. Teams usually have forged their identity, and it’s a matter of progress or failure in the near future.
There are still skeptics who wonder if Anthony and the Knicks are more than paper contenders. Their track record is unproven and their two early season wins against the Miami Heat are far cries from playoff defense in June.
Bryant and the Lakers have circled their hopes around 39-year old Steve Nash, gambling he will be the magic ingredient to produce their championship recipe. The jury is still out on the Lakers, and this extension should lend clarity by the all-star break in February.
Is Anthony vs. Bryant a crossroads game for one or both teams? Can their talented but controversial superstars lead their teams to the finals, perhaps to face each other?
It’s certainly possible, but the Knicks and Lakers will bring big-market drama to the season whether they succeed or fail.