He’s been compared to the impenetrable Michael Jordan, as well as Los Angeles Lakers greats Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Kobe Bryant’s performance in Game 7 of the NBA Finals was a bit out of the ordinary.
Bryant, widely considered as the best basketball player on the planet, was having an out-of-this-world performance—and I mean that in a bad way.
He was horrendous, missing shot after shot and losing his handle on more than one occasion. It wasn’t the Bryant we have seen throughout his career, or even the player we had seen the entire NBA Finals.
The Boston Celtics were on top of their game, obtaining a 13-point lead at one point in the third quarter. With Bryant struggling with his shot and everything in between, he began to focus on other things—like his teammates.
Pau Gasol and Ron Artest became the Lakers’ formidable scorers, making big shots and big plays time and time again as the comeback was in full swing. Bryant, on the other hand, knew his shot was off and focused on the glass. He ended up with a double-double because of his rebounding efforts.
More importantly, Bryant showed a version of himself nobody was accustomed to a decade ago.
Back then we all knew a talented young player with amazing skills, although his ego sometimes overshadowed his potential greatness. He was characterized as a selfish player and careless teammate, even being ridiculed by former floor mate Shaquille O’Neal and current head coach, Phil Jackson.
That was then and this is now.
It seems as if Kobe has come full circle, starting last season, and increasing his maturity level every game. The 2008 season ended in disappointment, but it was an experience which made Kobe stronger down the road. He realized the importance of trusting others and working together.
This new-found realization has made Kobe an elder statesman in the sense that he now knows what it takes to win a championship when the chips are down and things are not going the way he intended. He looks at other ways to make his team better and get them involved.
It is no fluke the Lakers are back-to-back champions with the connection Bryant has made with his teammates, most notably Gasol. The two compliment one another so well it is almost as if Kobe has a newer, more versatile version of Shaq playing with him.
And, looking into the crystal ball, Kobe will only continue to become wiser on and off the court. With players like Gasol and Artest and a young Andrew Bynum, another championship could be in the Lakers’ future.