Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dullest Killer Reptile Ever

Many careers in all trades end in self-parody, so it's not too surprising Kobe Bryant ended his NBA days in a game in which he scored 60 points by taking a measly 50 shots. Even back in his prime, Bryant was not what one would term a paragon of offensive efficiency. In 19 seasons, he led the league in scoring three times, and in shots taken six times. No man has better epitomized the saying that a shooter must have no conscience.

Indeed, if I were to create a prototypical Bryant game, it'd be a night where he went 11 for 27 and one for 7 from behind the three-point line for about 31 points. It's no accident that the new breed of statistically-driven basketball followers, who're trying to do for their sport what's already happened in baseball, tend to be reluctant to label Bryant an all-time great. They ignore the catch that in my typical Kobe game, that one three would win it for the Lakers.

This NBA follower is anything but stat-driven, but I'm willing to give Bryant his due. Obviously he's an all-time great, one of the top 20 for sure. He averaged 25 points a game over 19 years and scored 33.000 points. That's outstanding. He was a star on five NBA championship teams. That's even more outstanding. Although they all wore Laker uniforms, those five title winners were essentially two different teams (titles were 2000-2002 and 2009-2010) of which Bryant was the only constant. That's the stuff of history. Michael didn't do that, nor Larry nor Magic. Only Hall of Famers I can think of who did were Bill Russell and John Havlicek.

These accomplishments are to be respected and admired, and I do. Yet I must balance that respect and admiration with the following cold truth. From his rookie year to his pathetic farewell season, Kobe Bryant's game has always bored me stiff. He is the least compelling NBA superstar of my long life following pro basketball.

Scoring points is the sport's objective and Bryant was good at it. It's not his fault that isolation one-on-one scoring and repeated jump shots are not what I find the height of hardwood drama. There are no style points in basketball -- except in the hearts and minds of fans. And in my mind, I can think of a dozen scorers, from Earl Monroe to Kevin Durant, who probably weren't/aren't as accomplished as Bryant who were/are more fun to watch. For them, I'd buy a ticket. For him, never.

Time for the elephant in the bathtub. Bryant was accused of the heinous crime of rape. We will never know what really happened in that Colorado hotel room since the case never went to trial. I will say that for celebrities, bribing/threatening victims not to pursue serious criminal charges is not as easy as popular culture supposes. But I can't help remembering that when the news broke, my immediate reaction was "I can't believe such a vapid personality had such a horror in him."

Any fond/funny anecdotes from Bryant's career come to mind? Any memorable quotes? Anything besides all those shots? Maybe people in LA have dozens of such memories. Thirty-five hundred miles away from Staples Center, I don't. When I reach to compare Bryant to another superstar, the first one that pops into my head is poor A-Rod. Outside of Laker fandom, I can think of only two entities in sports who're really fond of Kobe, ESPN and Nike. That's not the best company to keep, legacy-wise.

Sports legends earn that term because people remember them for as long as life lasts. I've been lucky enough to see every NBA immortal save George Mikan. When I close my eyes and think of them, I see plays, signature displays of skill and will. I see Russell blocking a shot, Wilt dunking, Magic leading the Showtime break, Michael going off for 63 on the '86 Celtics. I can turn on the TV and see Steph Curry hitting a three.

When I close my eyes and think of Kobe Bryant, I see a resume.


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