It's over and I'm glad we get to put this to bed. In the immortal words of Hawk Harrelson, "He gone."
The "he" I am referring to is Kobe Bryant and I have to be honest, I couldn't be happier. For the last several years no one in the NBA has been as good as Kobe, not two-time MVP Steve Nash, not Lebron James or Dwyane Wade, not even his former running-mate Shaq.
That being said, he is not Michael Jordan and that is where the discussion ends. He is not as good as MJ and while he may not be past his prime, he never will be. In fact, I won't bring it up again because he just proved he isn't and never will be the heir to his airness.That is where it ends, read the endless articles explaining it or arguing against it, I won't waste any more time.
But it is clear that the pressure of attempting to become the next best thing seems to have created a monster. It really is a shame actually. Kobe could have been the next transcendent player, the face of the league, the leader of the NBA. Instead, he is the mamba, a villain and a now a loser.
Four of the last five seasons, Kobe Bryant has lead the NBA in points, twice leading the league in points per game. No one in the world has the offensive repertoire Bryant has, and no one anywhere close can play his kind of lock down defense.With a ring or two of his own, in other words, without Shaquille O'Neal, he would elevate himself to rare air.
But you become an all-time great by performing on the biggest stage possible, the NBA Finals. The last time Kobe was in the finals was 2004 with one of the most talented teams ever, perhaps one of the top five teams ever who didn't win the championship. Kobe shot 38 percent from the field and had just 22 assists despite turning the ball over 18 times. Number 23 never would have done that.
See, that is the problem with Kobe. The list of "Michael never would have";s for number 24 is just too long. A 24 point come back in the Finals? Not against a mid-90's Bulls team at home. A nearly 40 point shellackings in a close-out game even on the road? Not with MJ playing.
In 2005, Bryant lead the league in points per game, was an All-Star and looked like he was ready to lead his team to the promise land. Then, in the first round the Suns came back from down 3-1 and beat the Lakers in a game 7. He played so horrid in game 7, the phrase "to quit" was replaced by "to Kobe." (Bill Simmons might try to take credit, but I swear my friends and I thought of it right away).
In 2006, his team was ousted in just five games of the post-season. Bryant's relationship with the Lakers brass had gotten so carosive, Kobe demanded a trade. He got one, just not involving himself. The Lakers famously stole Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies.
With that shot in the arm, the ego had been satisfied and Kobe began to share the basketball.
However, with a hyper-sensitivity to his critics comparing him to Michael Jordan, he looked lost, frustrated, and angry most of Tuesday's Game 6 and not even the Zen Master could get him out of his funk as the Celtics absolutely rolled his Lakers.
In a series that seemed entirely up in the air, and being the best player on the court by far, Kobe finished the series shooting barely 40% from the floor, just 25 points per game and had a combined 10 turnovers in the final two games compared to just five assists.
In fact, his points per game fell in each playoff series. That includes a horrendous 6-19 17 point game AT HOME in a six point loss. Does a legend let his team come up six points short at home in a game you have to have?
Not only does Jordan not allow that to happen, but either does Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, or Tim Duncan. The list seems to be longer now than ever. Bryant picked a bad time to come up short in the playoffs. The league is stronger than ever. Don't you think people will be lining up with play with Chris Paul in New Orleans? What about teams looking to help San Antonio make another run at it, or Dallas, or Phoenix?
No doubt the Lakers will be the favorites to get back to the Finals in 2009 with a healthy Andrew Bynum, but at what cost? Kobe will be 30 in August and he won't be learning too many new tricks. He belittles his teammates on the court in prime-time, bullies his administration and talks back to his coach.
Sure the Celtics held Lebron James down for much of the series, but that is the same defense that let rookie Rodney Stuckey go off in the Conference Finals, as well as Joe Johnson kill them in the opening round.
There are no more excuses, and his time is running out. The league doesn't need Kobe Bryant. Lebron James could be getting Michael Redd and looks poised to have an MVP season. Dwyane Wade will come back healthy with Marion, a mid-level exception and a lottery pick. Carmelo Anthony could be headed to the Motor City and please believe he will become a top 5 player under Michael Curry.
Plus Chris Paul, and Deron Williams already have teams ready to contend in the West. And by the way, the West still includes a Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitski Mavs team, a Yao and T-Mac Rockets team, the talented Trail Blazers, and fast-paced Warriors.
The league has a long list of up and comers as well as established stars. It wouldn't be surprising to see Wade, Lebron, CP3, or even Dwight Howard or Amare Stoudimire emerge as the games pre-eminent play-maker on both ends of the court.
It is time to stop projecting Kobe. The NBA doesn't need another Jordan and even if they did, he doesn't reside in purple and gold. At almost 30, he does not possess the maturity or the will to push his team over the top. Just because you can score 81 in a game does not mean you have the testicular fortitude to put a team on your back and lead them to a title.
Now Mr. Bryant your story will become a cautionary tale of "be careful what you wish for." This is what you asked for. So far, you have been a horrible role-model, a selfish teammate, and a quitter. Your poor play alone cannot be blamed for losing this NBA Finals. However, your attitude and actions can be blamed for your legacy as nothing more than a Michael Jordan wannabe, lacking the kind of heart, grit, and guts to truly lead a team.
Kobe has undeniable talent, the kind that comes along once in a generation. He has time to grow his game, but it appears his attitude will preclude him from doing so. I do not expect any precipitous fall in scoring, or even winning for that matter. What I expect is a fall from grace with fans, his team, and history. This series showed Kobe for what he really is: a player not truly ready to be great, but one who already believes himself to be.
I have read this story before and hubris always seems to lead to tragedy. What is the old saying about pride and its place in relation to the fall?
It would be a tragedy Kobe, because your talent is truly special.
Michael Jordan? Please, those comparisons are ridiculous and I know I said I wouldn't bring it up again. I guess I'll just Kobe.