Kobe’s Last Stand

“He is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise. He is also destroying it from within.”

The quote came from the controversial article of ESPN’s Henry Abbott, posted a few days after Kobe called ESPN “a bunch of idiots” for ranking him 40th best player this season. Playing in his last couple of years in the NBA, Kobe Bryant is again being blamed for all what has become of the Lakers. Lost in all those criticisms, is the praise he deserves. The credit he never gets. 19 years in the NBA, and still not everyone understands who he is.

The ultimate enigma.

At 36 years old, he’s in a very precarious situation. The Lakers recently lost Steve Nash for the whole season, which would force him to retire at season’s end, and Dwight Howard moved to a conference rival, leaving an extra $30 mil off the table because he never wanted to play in Kobe’s shadow. They missed out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, both players deciding that there’s no place like home.

Instead, Hollywood acquired Jeremy Lin, a washed-up point guard whose biggest highlights came 2 years ago, and an overrated power forward, Carlos Boozer, ‘amnestied’ by Chicago for Pau Gasol. They gave Jordan Hill a questionable contract to be their defensive anchor, drafted a college prodigy, Julius Randle, who had screws on his toes that had a lot of teams questioning his durability, and gave a $48.5 mil/2 yr contract to the Black Mamba.

Somehow, Kobe still thinks the Lakers can win it all. And I understand why he’s very optimistic.
Kobe Bryant is, and will always be, Kobe Bryant. Except, this is a new Kobe Bryant we’re seeing.

4 years ago, Yahoo! Sports writer, Adrian Wojnarowski, asked him what he learned in his 30s that he should have learned in his 20s:

“How to truly make players better, what that really means,” he said. “It’s not just passing to your guys and getting them shots. It’s not getting this or that many players into double figures. That’s bull[expletive]. That’s not how you win championships. You’ve got to change the culture of your team – that’s how you truly make guys better. In a way, you have to help them to get the same DNA that you have, the same focus you have, maybe even close to the same drive. That’s how you make guys better.”

The Lakers are now back on earth, where the likes of Philadelphia and Milwaukee reside. 5 years have passed since they won their 16th championship and Kobe’s 5th, both 1 short of tying with the ghosts of Boston Celtics’ and Michael Jordan’s ring count respectively. Their only viable option is to tank, to deliberately lose games and earn a higher percentage of getting the number 1 draft pick for the 2015 class, where the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, Karl Town, and all these other young prospects are at the forefront. This could help the Lakers speed up the rebuilding process. (Phoenix holds the right to the Lakers draft pick if it falls below top 5 – included in the Steve Nash trade)

How much is left in the tank of the Black Mamba, though? Can his knees and ankles hold up for at least 164 games left?
Is this the end of Kobe Bryant?

There are no fairy tales, only realities; no white lies, only hard truths. It’s written all over the wall. Kobe Bryant will not win another ring. He won’t be a better player over Jordan. He will never end his career, riding off the sunset, but instead would suffer countless losses by blowouts and technical fouls out of frustration. At 36, he’s trying to be the leader of the team, the focal point of the offense, and the team’s best player on the defensive end. Both of which will not result anything positive.

His haters will have more reason to hate him, his doubters to doubt him, his enemies to beat him. The new age of the Lakers will start from the bottom, traveling a long road before being competitive once again. A story that can be associated with the stories of rich people now garbed up in rags.

A sad end to a valuable franchise. A bitter ending to one of the greatest players ever. Kobe Bryant knows that.

And that’s why as long as Kobe Bryant is at the helm, those things won’t happen. He’s too busy competing, battling his own demons and doubters, creating what could be the greatest comeback story in history. A fallen star, trying to climb Mount Everest once again.

It’s something you just see in movies, but he’s on the court trying to make it a reality.

– David Gamboa

(image from: http://images.sportsworldreport.com/data/images/full/4755/kobe-bryant.jpg?w=640)

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