It wasn’t us who made Kobe Bryant larger than life was it?
He is as big as stars come.
But as large as the shadow that his athletic excellence casts, over the deeper man, there is just as much human pain and joy to observe.
There are seven days left in Kobe Bryant’s career. It will conclude Wednesday April 13th in Los Angeles. We, the collective sports onlookers, assume this will be Kobe’s last appearance on an NBA court professionally.
Bryant’s physical breakdown has been obvious. Against the Miami Heat seven days ago, two weeks before his final game, he played nine minutes before telling Lakers coach Bryon Scott he couldn’t move. Whereafter ice packs were wrapped around his two knees and left shoulder.
The “take me out coach” does not remind us of the man he replaced. Michael Jordan’s physical decline was not as obvious. Jordan still had some left in the tank when he returned for two final seasons with the Washington Wizards at the age of 38. Kobe Bean Bryant is 37 years old and will be 38 at the conclusion of the summer. He played his first NBA regular season game on November 3rd, 1996. He was 18 years old, 18 years and 72 days young.
Even in his first games in the preseason of 1996 there was no question even then that he was going to be a superstar and a legend. Not like the youngsters today, bless them, it wasn’t and isn’t even the same. No one has ever burst onto the scene like Bryant.
Kobe was born in 1978 in Philadelphia. He would spend a lot of time as a kid in Italy where his father played basketball professionally, but by the time he was 17 he was a Laker.
Seven years later, Bryant would be accused of raping a nineteen-year-old woman July 1st 2003.
Here’s how he views the situation looking back some 12 years later:
Via GQ Magazine March 2016 :
“I started to consider the mortality of what I was doing,” he says. At the time, he was 24. “What’s important? What’s not important? What does it mean when everybody loves you, and then everybody hates your guts for something they think you did? So that’s when I decided that — if people were going to like me or not like me — it was going to be for who I actually was. To hell with all that plain vanilla [expletive], just to get endorsement deals. Those are superficial, anyway. I don’t enjoy doing them, anyway. I’ll just show people who I actually am…. The [loss of the] endorsements were really the least of my concerns. Was I afraid of going to jail? Yes. It was twenty-five to life, man. I was terrified. The one thing that really helped me during that process — I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic — was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
It would take six years for Kobe Bryant to win another NBA title after winning three straight from the summer of 2000 to the summer of 2002.
In 2009 Kobe and the Lakers defeated Orlando for the title, and then in 2010, Kobe’s last title, which he calls the most important, the Lakers defeated the Celtics four games to three and Kobe has spent the last six years not without success but without a return to the finals. A so at that point the longer swang song began.
Though he is regarded as a selfish offensive player, he does rank 29th on the NBA’s assist list all-time with over 6,200. But if points were all that mattered he is third-behind Kareem and Karl Malone with over 33,000 NBA points scored.
And perhaps the most mystifying stat of them all: Kobe ranks 16th All-Time in terms of league MVP’s with a single MVP award coming in 2008. M.J. for who he is the heir apparent to, has five.
When asked recently in an ESPN interview why that happened he answered succinctly, “because the media votes on it.”
He continued, “It was never a mission of mine to win a lot of MVPs. It was to win a lot of championships. With that being said, does it bother me? Yeah, it bothers me. Of course it bothers me.”
In the coming weeks, Kobe will be celebrated. The youngsters in the league who were literally five or six when Kobe first one a championship and literally were not even born when Kobe started playing will forever idolize Kobe and after games, it’s a race, to see who can get to Kobe first for a snapshot, an autographed, maybe even a pair of his shoes.
But the larger public, it must break his heart, the effort and the intensity that he played with, and the sheer ability, that he won’t be as lauded by the fans. The media will give him his due next week. But it’s feel will not be like Peyton Manning, though with allegations from years past also against Manning, the similarities between the two are striking. Perhaps the public does not feel Kobe paid the price. Although, Kobe is a changed man he would say.
And despite the allegations in Colorado, and the much, much, less painfully allegations that he didn’t share the ball, didn’t get along with teammates and didn’t tolerate lack of effort. There is a respect for Kobe. There is much respect for the man and the person inside the NBA.
But in Kobe’s final week, sadly will be like many others, without the glory and the exhilaration as years’ past. But somewhere it appears that there is peace for Bryant and some happiness as competition’s glory has faded.