Originally published in SLAM 131
The 6th Man: For a long-time member of the SLAM staff (12 years this summer!), I have a relatively limited history with Kobe Bryant. A few handshakes after games, a couple quick discussions at photo shoots, and that’s it. I’ve never done a sit-down interview with him, never had a phone conversation with him. I point this out because I think many media members who have dealt with Kobe more extensively are impacted by their experience. Perhaps they found him witty and charming, or maybe over-the-top and phony (or maybe both).
Whatever the case, it could surely be distracting background noise when watching him and trying to form an opinion on his game. For better or worse, I’ve been able to mostly focus on what happens on the court. Not that doing so couldn’t be vexing as well. Generally speaking, I like guys who pass the ball, who make their teammates better. I didn’t always see that enough from Kobe. I always loved the skills—the perfect jumpshot, the textbook free throws, the strong left hand—but I wondered what the end game was. Well, this postseason, I saw it all come together. Yes, I read the stats and I know he didn’t play all that differently this spring, but with the aid of some heavy lifting by Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and brilliant spot help from Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher, this year was different: Kobe won.
So for him to use those brilliant skills, honed to perfection as a 30-year-old who had barely rested for two calendar years and could easily have taken a game or two off but never did, to lead a championship team is something that I cannot hate on. You shouldn’t either.
P.S. From the Finals recap (always a collector’s favorite) to the spectacular Year in Photos, much of this issue is a celebration. Our old-school feature on Ricky Berry (pg. 72), on the other hand, is a reminder that sometimes basketball is not all fun and games. Respect to writer Michael Bradley, as well as Ricky’s wife, for delivering such a thoughtful piece.