Welcome to RespectKobe.com on this, the first ever Kobe Bryant Day. Here’s what Hardwood Paroxysm, where the idea of “Kobe Bryant Blog Day” was born, has to say about it:
Their instructions include the following:
Fair enough. With that, I give you a look back at the greatness of Kobe Bryant over the past 12 years.
Rise Again: The Undefeatable Kobe Bryant
Twelve years is a long time. But for Kobe Bryant, who is in his twelfth year, it is still only the beginning. He is only 29 years old, and who knows how many years he has left? He is in the best shape of his life, takes care of his body religiously, and is a workout fanatic. It’s assumed that he’s got at least 4 to 5 years left at the top of his game, and given his versatility and ability to score from anywhere on the court, it’s not impossible that he could be dominant for years after that. (Bryant already has a better jumpshot than the fade-away jumper Michael Jordan developed in his thirties.)
This is the start of the third phase in Kobe Bryant’s career. First came the “Kobe-Shaq” years, when the dynamic duo led the Lakers to three straight championships. More recently, in the post-Shaq era, Kobe struggled to carry a poorly constructed Lakers team — but succeeded better than anyone could have (or should have) expected. Finally, now, Bryant enters a new era, with a team built around and led by him, and seemingly destined for greatness. It is mind-boggling to think of what he could accomplish over the next several years, with this Lakers team. But as much promise as the future holds for Kobe Bryant, it is often easy to forget all that he has already accomplished.
The sports fan is, by nature, a forgetful creature. And why shouldn’t he be? We are constantly inundated with visual stimuli, and it is only natural that those events and accomplishments for which we have little or no visual reminder would fade in our minds. Furthermore, every new generation of sports fans sees greatness before their eyes, but, not having watched previous generations, they have no context within which to evaluate today’s players. This applies not only to the relatively distant past, dominated by Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain (30 years are an eternity in sports), but also to much more recent years. Time has caused us to forget the flaws in Michael Jordan’s game, and that he was once criticized as the most selfish player ever. It has caused us to view Steve Nash and Jason Kidd as two of the best point guards ever to play the game, while Magic Johnson and John Stockton go unremembered. And it has caused us to forget, all too quickly, the greatness that is, and has been, Kobe Bryant.
We’ve allowed ourselves to forget the years in which Bryant, along with Shaquille O’Neal, led the Lakers to three consecutive championships. And even when we do remember, absent-minded revisionism gives all of the credit to O’Neal, wiping from memory the countless clutch performances from Bryant, without which the Lakers could not have won a single championship. Bryant is retrospectively painted as a cancer, rather than a leader on the team that dominated the early part of this decade. He is portrayed as “selfish” and a “ball hog,” rather than the primary distributor and facilitator for a teammate with a reputation for pouting when he didn’t get the ball as much as he wanted. And in many cases, he is remembered as a detriment to his team, rather than the very reason the Lakers have had any success at all.
Not today. Today, he will be remembered as he truly is.
When It Matters: Coming Through in the Clutch
Today, we will remember that Kobe Bryant is the most clutch player in the game, and that whenever the Lakers have needed a close win, he has provided it. Sacramento, Portland, and Phoenix, among others, remember this all too well. But because the Lakers have dominated this season, rarely needing Bryant’s fourth quarter heroics — and because they have failed to win in the Playoffs over the last few years — many have forgotten his past exploits. Some have even written his status as the most clutch player in the game off to hype and reputation, rather than reality. But when his team has needed it most, Kobe Bryant has always provided, and he continues to do so.
To that end, witness the following videos, courtesy of YouTube, and remember. Watch Kobe Bryant drain a deep, off-balance three-pointer over Ruben Patterson to take Portland to overtime, followed by a falling-down three-pointer to win the game in overtime — and remember that there is no such thing as a “Kobe Stopper.” See him make one clutch play after another, and remember that he has been doing this for years. And witness him do to Phoenix what he once did to Portland — first sending the game to overtime, and then winning it in overtime — and remember that this was nothing new.
After 12 years, we’ve come to take Kobe Bryant’s greatness for granted. But he has always done this, year in and year out, whenever necessary — and, as we were reminded earlier this month, he will continue to do so, whenever it is asked of him.
Colorado: The Downfall
In the 2003-04 season, following the Lakers first Playoffs exit after three championships in a row, the Lakers were re-tooled for another run. They added veterans Gary Payton and Karl Malone, and they dominated from day one. It was then that Kobe Bryant’s world came crashing down around him. A young woman in Colorado accused him of rape and was bringing charges against him. In a moment, Kobe’s squeaky clean image was forever tarnished, and his personal life threatened to fall apart at any moment. But after Bryant admitted to — consensual — sexual relations with the woman, a long, drawn-out trial ensued to determine the validity of the rape charges against him.
Throughout all of this, Bryant continued to play basketball, and the Lakers continued to win. He made a regular habit of spending the day in court, only to fly back to Los Angeles and play some of the best basketball of his life, consistently scoring 30 and 40 points while also recording high assists and rebounding statistics. Bryant was eventually cleared of all charges, guilty only of infidelity — something that he shares with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, among many others. (Remember, this is the United States of America, where people are considered innocent until proven guilty, and Kobe Bryant was never found guilty.)
Colorado should have destroyed Kobe Bryant. But it didn’t. Bryant emerged from the crisis stronger, more determined, and with greater resolve. He had lost his endorsement contracts, but it did not matter. He was a basketball player, first and foremost, and even this could not keep him down.
Scapegoat: The Breakup
The star-studded Lakers rolled through the 2004 playoffs, meeting Detroit in the Finals. In Game 1, the Pistons surprised the Lakers and stole home court advantage. In Game 2, Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and handed out 7 assists to keep the Lakers in the game until the final second — at which point, he stepped up and forced overtime. With 2.1 seconds remaining and Detroit up by three, Bryant hit a three-pointer to send the game to overtime. The shot so devastated the Pistons that the Lakers won easily in the extra period.
Despite Kobe Bryant’s efforts, the Lakers would go on to lose to the Pistons. Karl Malone’s sprained ankle, which took a beating against Minnesota, rendered him completely ineffective on both ends of the court. Gary Payton was completely overmatched and outplayed by Chauncy Billups. Shaq was productive, but not his dominant self. And Detroit’s defense was smothering.
Meanwhile, contract negotiations between L.A. and O’Neal, which were already falling apart during the playoffs, deteriorated to the point that Shaq demanded a trade during the summer. Lakers owner Jerry Buss complied. Karl Malone retired, and Gary Payton moved on. And while the departure of Shaq was a decision made by Jerry Buss, and was a direct result of his unreasonable contract demands and Buss’s unwillingness to meet them, Bryant took the blame. The media claimed that he had forced Shaq out, no longer interested in sharing leadership of the team. This could not have been farther from the truth, but Shaq was the more “likeable” of the two, and more endeared to the media, so Kobe took the fall.
Bryant’s public image was at an all time low. Viewed as a sexual offender, blamed for the Lakers loss to the Pistons, and accused of forcing Shaq out of L.A., his future looked bleak.
Rebuilding: The Post-Shaq Era
The 2004-05 season was a disappointing one for the Lakers. Bryant missed nearly 20 games, and the Lakers finished with a 34-48 record and missed the Playoffs. But in 2005-06, Kobe Bryant showed the world that he was not done yet. He would rise again.
Playing with a Lakers team that started Smush Parker (who is unable to get a job as a reserve guard on the worst team in the league, Miami, which desperately needs a point guard and is currently riddled with injuries), Kwame Brown (widely considered a bust, and now racking up DNP CDs on the third worst team in the league), and Brian Cook (a below average second string player at best), Bryant led the Lakers to a 45-37 record, and nearly upset the heavily favored Phoenix Suns in the first round of the Playoffs. Along the way, Kobe Bryant showed the world that he is the greatest offensive player ever to play the game.
On December 20th, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarter against a Dallas team that would go on to reach the NBA Finals. A month later, he scored 81 points, the second-highest single game scoring total in NBA history, against Toronto. His 81 points in a single game are second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100, but because of the competition Chamberlain faced, the much faster pace of the game at the time, and the way in which each scored their points — Wilt scored virtually all of his points within a couple steps of the basket, where as most of Kobe’s came off of mid-range and long distance jump shots — most consider Bryant’s 81 points to be a more impressive accomplishment than Chamberlain’s 100.
The sports world was in awe, completely dumbfounded, but Bryant was not yet finished. Despite playing with a simply awful supporting cast, he led the Lakers to the Playoffs, and nearly upset the Phoenix Suns, going up 3-1 before losing the next three games. In doing so, Bryant completely and unexpectedly changed his game, playing the role of pass-first facilitator and only looking for his shot later in the game. But after his inexperienced teammates crumbled under the pressure of a 7-game playoff series, Bryant was blamed for the loss, because he had only taken a single shot in the second half of Game 7.
Bryant explained: “If we were going to get back in this type of game, we have to have everybody contributing.” Indeed, by the second half the Lakers were already down by 15, and all three of their wins against the Suns had come as a result of team play, facilitated by Bryant — not as a result of Bryant flying solo. But as things typically go for Kobe Bryant — damned if you do, damned if you don’t — he was blamed for playing with the same game plan that enabled the Lakers to win three against the Suns in the first place.
The Lakers exited the Playoffs in Round 1, but Kobe Bryant had undeniably returned to relevance — and he wasn’t finished. In the 2006-07 season, he picked up where he left off, facilitating the offense and getting his teammates involved before looking for his own shot. As a result, the Lakers lept out to a very surprising 27-13 start, before injuries swept through the roster and sent the Lakers into a massive losing streak. Nevertheless, Kobe stuck to Phil Jackson’s game plan, staying true to the triangle offense and doing his best to facilitate for his teammates. After the Lakers dropped 13 out of 16 games, Phil Jackson and his assistant (and creator of the triangle offense) Tex Winter asked Bryant to carry his team.
Bryant responded by posting 4 straight games of 50 or more points — a feat accomplished only by himself and Wilt Chamberlain. All four games were wins, which was most important to Bryant, and with Kobe shouldering the load, the Lakers went 9-8 in the final 17 games of the regular season. And while the Lakers had Kobe Bryant, the rest of the team was weak and devastated by injuries, and they were no match for Phoenix in the Playoffs. But the world had taken notice, once again, and finally they recognized what had been true for several years.
Kobe Bryant was the best player in the world.
Full of Surprises: The Bright Future
After the Lakers’ second first round exit from the Playoffs, Kobe Bryant could take it no longer. Lakers management had failed to build a solid team around him in the time frame that they had promised, instead trading now-All-Star Caron Butler for Kwame Brown and wasting two years on an experiment with Smush Parker. Lamar Odom was not fit to be the second option on the team, and Andrew Bynum was a kid with plenty of potential that was unlikely to be realized while Kobe was still the best in the game. His notorious trade demands of this past summer reflected poorly on him, and his method of expressing his frustration was questionable at best, he was nonetheless correct: Lakers management had failed, dismally, and he had every reason to be upset.
He was the anti-Garnett; he refused to allow incompetent management to waste his best years, and he would either compel them to improve or leave, but he would not be a part of an organization that had displayed no desire to win, and seemed unwilling to take the risks necessary to do so. He was willing to risk everything, and he did. And fortunately for him, it worked. Feeling the heat, the Lakers front office finally sprung into action, replacing Smush Parker with Derek Fisher, and later, Kwame Brown with former All-Star Pau Gasol. Meanwhile, Bryant’s teammates stepped up to the challenge, working harder than they ever had to improve and meet his standards.
Suddenly, it is 2008, and the Lakers are sitting atop the strongest conference in the history of NBA basketball. Through all this, the single constant has been Bryant, who, despite numerous key injuries to his teammates and playing on a team that is rebuilding on the fly, has propelled them forward, defying the critics and overcoming every negative prediction. He has refused to make this about himself, maintaining a team perspective, even when injuries to Bynum and Trevor Ariza resulted in widespread predictions that he would go back to the old, selfish Kobe, abandoning his team-oriented, facilitator approach. Bryant has stayed the course, and now, with the end of the regular season in sight, the Lakers have the best record in the West and are strong favorites to win the 2008 NBA Championship.
In training camp, Bryant set the tone for this Lakers season with a single sentence: “Hi, I’m Kobe Bryant, and I want to win a championship.” He has kept this team focused, refusing to allow them to dwell on past losses or look to future challenges, not allowing them to become overly excited about their accomplishments. He has led by example, and he has kept the team’s accomplishments in perspective, and his teammates have followed his lead.
Kobe Bryant: Here to Stay
The lesson of recent history, as it concerns Kobe Bryant, is clear: He is here to stay. Time and time again, seemingly insurmountable obstacles have presented themselves. Time and time again, Bryant has been criticized, derided, and written off — sometimes even forgotten about. But time and time again, he has overcome. He has risen to the challenge. And he has triumphed. And now, with the future in his hands and the Lakers looming large, the time has come for him to prove to the world what he has always known — that he is the best, and that there is nothing that can keep him down.
It is worth noting that many challengers have come and gone, over the years. At Hardwood Paroxysm’s request, these will remain nameless, as it is not about them, but about Kobe. Suffice it to say that time and time again, a challenger to Kobe’s status as the best basketball player alive has arisen, and the declaration has been made that Kobe Bryant has been surpassed. The masses have always sought “the next Michael Jordan,” and Kobe has been given that label, at times, along with at least a half dozen other players. But every single time, the player heralded as his replacement — his superior, even — and the “next Michael Jordan” has faded. Without fail, time has shown that the comparison was unfounded.
Is Kobe Bryant the next Michael Jordan? No. He is the only Kobe Bryant. Is he at Jordan’s level? Not yet. Might he one day be? Perhaps. But that’s not the point — the point is simply that Kobe Bryant is the only one who, over the course of an entire decade, has consistently received those comparisons. He is the only one who has survived that pressure, and lived up to it. The other challengers have come and gone, and there will be others, but only Kobe Bryant has remained.
Kobe Bryant: Undefeatable
It is easy to forget what Kobe Bryant has already accomplished in the last decade. Newer, younger, more exciting stars will always amaze us, and we are quickly forgetful.
But this much must now be clear: Kobe Bryant may occasionally lose, but he will never be defeated. He is here to stay, and his time has come. He may fall, but he will rise again, stronger and better than ever. It is the most consistent and one of the few reliable truths in basketball: Kobe Bryant will not be kept down.