At 31, Kobe has plenty more playing years ahead.
The Lakers faithful didn’t need to take down the party decorations from Magic’s half century celebration last week, because this weekend Kobe Bryant turned 31. No big thing right? Haven’t you learned by now? This is Kobe Bryant were talking about, nothing about this man is insignificant. So, shamelessly, yes, this is reason to take another look at the most penned-about subject in basketball…
30′s the new 20
I’m on fire still
These young boys is like fire drills
False alarms, the next don
He ain’t got it, on to the next one. –Jay-Z, 30 Something
I know its hard to believe but the Black Mamba, MVP, Mr. 81, Kobe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant turned 31 years of age. I’m not trying to make you feel old, Kobe, but that ‘fro was a long time ago. So many happy returns to No. 24, and that’s that right? Or is now the apt time to talk about this man’s age?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to cynically write about the diminishing years and skills of an athlete in his 30s. This is no swan-song, no winter of a legends pro-career. Besides, age sometimes really is like Aaliyah told us. Just ask Kobe’s former Batman, Shaquille O’Neal, who last season stepped in the rejuvenating machine and showed no signs of slowing down. Or Dikembe Mutombo who may have now retired but literally defied age for years chasing Robert Parish’s longevity.
Kobe’s only beginning his 30s and, by those aforementioned standards, could be here for a very long time still. That being said, we cannot escape time and in the constant Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James debate. One thing’s for certain, injuries aside, we’ve got many more years to see how good LeBron will get. And we most definitely won’t be able to enjoy another decade of Kobe Bryant, let alone another 13 record-breaking, highlight-filled years we’ve already been blessed with.
Many accolades and milestones cemented these 13 years of ‘Where Amazing Happens’ moments. Also strengthening his legend is the career average of 25 points per and the 11 All-Star selections. As recent as this June Kobe claimed what had been eluding him for many years, another NBA championship. This his fourth but his first without being fueled by The Diesel. For Kobe Bryant this really is a turning point and even the most casual of barcalounger, NBA fans can see this. How fitting is this turning point to come when the Kobe is in the beginning of his 30s? Even Kobe admitted it himself when he changed his famous No. 8 to 24 a couple of years back. Bryant dubbed it “evolution” for the second half of his career.
Take a look at the evolution of his game and you can see the change. No. 8 won championships with Shaquille O’Neal and primarily wowed crowds with his fast break dunks, style and athleticism. Don’t get me wrong No. 8 was still the makings of a legend and arguably the best basketball player on the planet. But take a look at No. 24, still wowing the crowd with dunks, athleticism and style like No. 8 all whilst taking the game a little bit slower. When I say slower I don’t mean in the sense that his mind’s writing checks his legs can’t cash anymore, but that he’s beginning to see the game more like Magic Johnson. He’s seeing plays before they develop, seeing the game as chess not checkers.
Think about the advantages of seeing and taking the game slower, think about what Magic did without taking more than a couple of shots — he dominated. It’s plain and simple. If you can see the game and play the game slower, you yourself can control the game; this breeds wins, which birth championships. When you’re at Kobe Bryant’s standards and see the game at a different level you don’t just take shots, you have time to find your shot. With this in mind No. 24 has also begun to pass, defer and, most importantly, trust his teammates. This makes his Lakers squad that much more efficient and, more importantly, more dangerous. The trust thing works both ways. Once the Lakers powers-that-be brought in the necessary personnel, No. 24 was more comfortable and happy. Kobe put it best: He was “no longer going to war with butter knives.” A good general has to lead his soldiers, however, and that’s what Kobe’s done en route to what amounted to the first championship for most of his teammates.
Take a look at how he helped young players like Shannon Brown develop or how his trust bought the best out of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. The art of passing, the missing aspect from Kobe’s game for years, finally came to him. The way Kobe now makes teammates that only a couple years back he’d ridicule on hidden camera better will begin to bring Kobe comparisons to Magic Johnson as well as Michael Jordan. As if that wasn’t enough the self dubbed ‘Doberman’ muzzled his critics even further by not just trusting his teammates but coaching them too. Take a look at many of the Lakers huddles from the Playoffs and Finals and observe Phil Jackson taking a back seat while a passionate, focused Kobe takes the whiteboard. Don’t for a second think that the Zen Master’s got soft on us. He’s letting Kobe do exactly what he should: spreading his wings and widening his gaze. Now that’s a true MVP.
If Kobe continues like this for his remaining playing years, the difference between the Kobe Bryant in his 20s and the Kobe Bryant in his 30s will become more obvious. You think that winning that one championship and proving he could do it without Shaquille O’Neal was enough?
“I want to be the best, simple and plain.” –Kobe Bryant
Think again. Kobe’s not done, and he’s got plenty of years left to show us how good he can get and how far he can take his team. His fourth championship officially puts a stamp on the beginning of the second part of his career, or should I say reign (sorry, King). You see, Kobe may have more playing years in the bank than he does at his disposal, however, this isn’t Bryant’s Black Album, this is his Volume 2, The Life and Times of K. Bryant.
Think for a second what more Kobe can do and prove to the never satisfied critics. Expect more stoic, pregame faces and postgame interviews because this dude is focused. First thing’s first — everyone will be wondering whether Kobe can repeat. On the other hand, Kobe will be confident his team can repeat. Bar injuries and cohesiveness issues, you can expect Kobe to collect rings with as much tenacity as that little blue hedgehog. He’s definitely got the key components to do it — Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher, Gasol, Odom and Andrew Bynum. Also with this summer’s addition of Ron Artest, the Lakers aren’t just going to be impossible to stop, there going to be impossible to get through. The most important part is No. 24 himself. As long as he’s healthy, focused and driven (and he’s always guaranteed to be two of these things), we’ve still got a good five years to enjoy or worry about Kobe Bryant, whether or not he slows down. Can Kobe lead a dynasty without Shaq?
Would you bet against him?
There are other areas Kobe Bryant in his second part of his career can look toward. If Mike Krzyzewski never ends up coming to L.A., then Kobe can count on reuniting with him one more time in 2012 at the next Olympic Games in London. When you’re the best, world domination is never far out your sight. Kobe’s become a true champion of worldwide basketball once already, and if he resurrects the Doberman again for one or maybe two more Olympic games he will further bolster his basketball legacy. With Bryant’s recent development and maturation, can you think of anyone better to lead a team of young talent against the best the world has to offer again?
If the second part of Kobe’s career could be forecast in one word, it would be ‘unselfishness.’ For team and country sounds better. This doesn’t mean that, in cementing his legend, Kobe can’t go after personal goals. Remember, this man hit 81 points in a game against the Raptors. Give him a hot night against the Bobcats, and you reckon he could beat Wilt’s record? Speaking of Wilt, even if breaking his record is the furthest thing from Kobe’s mind, his status as an all-time Los Angeles Laker isn’t. When his jersey (whether it be number 8 or 24) rises to the rafters, where will Kobe be considered next to those other Laker legends? Think about it, he’s going against arguably the most dominant player of all time; a player who leads every player ever in scoring, patenting a specific shot to call his own; a player who redefined his position and the game’s position itself; and a player who is the NBA’s logo. Still when you put Kobe Bryant’s name next to Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jerry West there really isn’t a great deal in it. Kobe’s hungry for records, accolades and rings and the man himself is as appealing as any NBA legend. Think about all he could do and become in his remaining years. One thing’s for sure: He will continue to climb the list of greatest players of all time, and his name will always be on people’s lips when they debate the greats.
No matter how this second part of the Mamba’s career pans out there will always be the same comparisons. The first comparison will be the constant debate of who today is better: this year’s MVP LeBron James or this year’s champion Kobe Bryant. As Kobe gets older and LeBron’s legend and achievements grow, critics will have their say, but let’s put it to rest for the moment. LeBron’s still yet to achieve what Kobe has and who would you start a team with tomorrow? The best individual player or the champion?
The other comparison doesn’t even need to be mentioned or should I say it’s over-mentioned. You knew it already; you can’t escape an article about Kobe Bryant’s career without Michael Jordan’s name being mentioned. Understand when Kobe was growing up, he was dribbling and sticking his tongue out like MJ and not moon walking and grabbing his crotch like the other MJ. Idol worshiping aside, Kobe’s career is his own. What No. 23 did in his career was Michael Jordan’s legacy and what No. 24 will do in the rest of his career is Kobe Bryant’s legacy. Obviously the similarities are present, such as the tutoring of Phil Jackson, the growth, the maturity and of course how they think and play the game. But if you want to get excited about a Bryant-Jordan comparison, think of how much his ‘Airness’ did in his 30s and then think of all that this similarly talented, like-minded, refuse-to-lose competitor can do in his 30s. Just make sure to remember that Kobe’s done so much in his already legendary career. He can be considered one of the best today, after just turning 31.
Kobe Bryant is in elite company with the other athletes of today who are in consideration as the best ever in their respective fields. The Tiger Woods, Roger Federers and Usain Bolts of the world. But look at what Kobe’s already done and could do and leave the LeBron, Jordan and other greats comparisons aside for a minute. His talent is his talent, his legend is his to own and even if his years at the top are numbered, we’ve seen a lot, but we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Never take a day off
Catch you at the top of the key and get a J off
Tongue out like 23
Even 23 gotta love how I do me
–Lil’ Wayne, Kobe Bryant