Kobe Bryant never passes.
Few NBA tropes are more tried and true and yet so tired—or have been since the late Bill Clinton Administration—than this one.
But just because something can be true (and when your most trusted second option is this guy, why should we expect otherwise?) doesn’t mean it’s always been so.
If that smile doesn’t say, “I enjoy sharing,” I don’t know what does.
Six thousand assists. Nope, never passes.
The feat—overshadowed somewhat by Bryant's first triple-double of the season (31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists)—was unfurled in the midst of the Los Angeles Lakers' surprising 129-122 overtime win over the red-hot Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.
To say it’s been a difficult year for the 36-year-old Bryant would be an understatement. On top of watching helplessly while his once-proud franchise sinks once again into lottery-bound irrelevance, Kobe himself is registering a career-low field-goal percentage of 39 percent.
Worse still for Lakers fans, the 19-year veteran recently admitted to USA Today’s Sam Amick that he can’t envision himself playing beyond his current two-year, $48.5 million contract:
"Nah, not really," Bryant said. "But I'm so loyal to this organization, there's not a chance (of him leaving)…I've been really fortunate to win a lot of games here, a lot of championships here. You can't (expletive) with (that)."
Cue our old friend Lloyd Christmas.
It’s not hard to appreciate Bryant’s reluctance. Following a pair of injury-deferred seasons, Bryant—buoyed by L.A.’s gargantuan cap space—was looking forward to one more championship run, ideally alongside a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, both of whom the Lakers courted over the summer.
Instead, Mitch Kupchak and Co. were forced to settle for an amnestied Carlos Boozer, an overpriced Jeremy Lin and these guys, among others.
Needless to say, L.A. turning Julius Randle (out for the season with a broken leg) and Rookie Sensation X into contention-quality wingmen by next season probably isn’t too high up on the list of likely outcomes. The resulting blueprint, writes Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, isn’t exactly encouraging:
With Bryant now 36, even though so many fans still enjoy watching him as he tries to fight off injuries and age, these Lakers fundamentally are not in development.
There's something innately encouraging about watching kids play, from Little League to college ball. There would've been something special about every moment Randle was on the court this season, no matter the Lakers' record in those moments.
Without him, it's inescapable just how much the Lakers these days are biding their time instead of growing their future.
All of which leaves us to ponder a very sad but very real scenario: that our final image of Kobe Bryant will be one not of a glory-golden sunset, sixth trophy the token totem of a career married in merit to Michael Jordan. But rather that of a gun-slinging basketball bandit both doomed and too stubborn to do anything but what he’s always done, that doom be damned.
Let’s just not forget, as undefeated twilight fights to claim another, just how great an all-around player Kobe Bean Bryant was—even if we sometimes couldn’t be bothered to notice.