Bryant will be 36 years old when the 2014-15 campaign starts, and that alone should be a sign that he’s on his way out. If we include the fact he missed practically the entirety of the 2013-14 season due to an Achilles tear and fractured knee, it seems evident that his playing days are numbered.
That might sound gloomy, but it’s a reality we must all come to grips with. It’s important that we appreciate the moments that Kobe will give us as he plays out the last two years of his contract.
In a perfect world, Bryant will close his career in the same manner that he’s performed throughout its majority: as a legend.
The NBA doesn’t necessarily need Kobe to reproduce his past exploits since it has stars such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James to carry the league. However, the NBA would certainly appreciate a last round of greatness from the face of the Lakers.
Bryant plays the game with a flair that no one else in the league shares. His body language screams to opponents and fans “I’m just better than you,” and on some nights, that body language is right.
For those that prefer actual words, Kobe is more than willing to share those, too.
At his best, Bryant isn’t just a marvelous ball player, he’s also a savior of sorts. If that sounds hyperbolic, allow me to present you with some evidence. During the 2012-13 campaign, the Lakers were staring at a five-point deficit with under two minutes left in the game.
Bryant responded by hitting a barrage of ridiculously difficult three-pointers to send the game into overtime and win it. I realize my words simply don’t do justice to Kobe’s exploits. Therefore, just give it a look:
That’s hardly the lone example of Bryant bailing out Los Angeles. I mean, his career is basically a catalog of exceptional late-game plays (make sure you watch all of the footage):
These types of highlights are what fans and players have become accustomed to with Bryant. The absence of them during last season was certainly felt, as evidenced by the fact the Purple and Gold won 27 games.
The Lakers, one of the league’s marquee franchises, were unwatchable without their best player. They simply weren’t compelling or talented enough to compete against good teams. I mostly expected L.A. to fold against decent opponents and treated contests against bad teams as a 50-50 proposition.
On the flip side, it feels almost blasphemous and silly to consider that the Lakers would have been in the same predicament with a healthy Kobe suiting up every night. His individual success would have lifted the team to respectability at the very least.
Bryant is one of the league’s most accomplished scorers, and his skill on that front would have opened up the floor for his teammates. Keep in mind, Kobe enjoys the occasional facilitator role, which makes him quite unpredictable for defenses.
Watching Bryant toy with opponents while he figures out his own course of action is simply mesmerizing. The Black Mamba is a puppeteer who seemingly pulls the strings of everyone in his vicinity, just for sport. Watch him make defenders look silly:
After observing all of this footage, it leads us to a simple conclusion: There might not be a more aesthetically pleasing player in the league than Bryant. He combines all of the fundamentals and makes them look spectacular.
Kobe’s shooting form is perfect, and he utilizes it to make tough fadeaway shots look routine. His ball-handling is basic and extravagant at the same time, because he breaks out counters that completely throw defenders off.
When outlining his strengths, it almost feels like the start of a Dos Equis commercial that seems destined to end with the line “Bryant is the most entertaining man in the world.”
These details are the reason why we want more Kobe. He constantly feeds our appetite for greatness even when we are full. Bryant is one of the most amazing athletes in the sport, and he complements his skill with responses that might just rival his talent.
Kobe is a candid and clever individual, which makes it quite fun to get a microphone near him. For instance, watch this gem of an interview below in which Bryant makes fun of Cabbie in March 2007:
Kobe aptly picks up on cues to comically respond and get his points across in his conversation with Cabbie. This isn’t an isolated occurrence.
My favorite Bryant interaction stems from his postgame comments following the Game 7 victory against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 Finals.
A reporter asked Bryant what winning his fifth title meant, and Kobe replied:
Again, Bryant provides great sound and seems to enjoy surpassing himself in these types of settings. The best illustration of this came six months after the 2010 championship when the Lakers met President Barack Obama.
“If he calls that number, I'll be sure to pick up after the fifth ring,” Bryant retorted in reference to his five championships. Responses like this are the standard that Kobe has set.
I can’t lie, for selfish reasons, I hope Bryant never goes away. But that’s not how it works. His mind and body have taken a beating over the years because of the grind he’s put them through. In truth, we can all be content with Bryant’s career given everything he’s accomplished on the court and the things he’s said off of it.
Still, a last round would be immense. It would be fun to watch him one last time average 40 points during an entire month, attack his front office through the media or simply throw a teammate under the bus after a loss. His public attacks are often swift and comedic, which makes them quite fun to witness.
The ceiling of his prospective actions has often seemed limitless. Enjoying that feeling one last time would give the Lakers and the league a great boost.
More importantly, Bryant’s career would end in the manner in which most of us always expected it would: A retirement ceremony where at least half of the league still worries about him dropping 30 points on them while providing the colorful commentary that comes along with it.