Kobe Bryant is venturing into uncharted waters. With 14 years of NBA service under his belt he’s gone from wide-eyed rookie to narrow gazed vet in what feels like a matter of months. Hard to believe it when you step back and look at his entire body of work.
One day, after his playing days are long since over, we’ll all recant in amazement all of the feats he’s accomplished. Kobe’s legacy is the stuff of legend at times seeming too impossible to be true. He didn’t really drop 81. No way he outscored the Mavericks in three quarters. He hit how many threes in one game?
Beyond all of the facts that could be mistaken as tall tales there is one feat that could place Bryant in immortal territory – winning multiple titles after the age of 30.
Kobe is about to turn 33 in a matter of months. For anyone else that would still be considered young. Just over a decade ago that age could even be called prime in NBA terms. Not these days.
Bryant’s wear and tear began at the tender age of 17 when the Lakers first drafted the high school hero from Lower Merion. Now a gym at his alma mater bears his name and his body has the mileage of a 40-year-old. How fast all these things have happened.
Without a doubt the biggest question around Lakerland is just how much more does Bryant have to give to the game?
We all watched as he struggled to get back into shape following knee surgery last offseason. While Kobe didn’t have a down year by any standards, we never truly saw the Mamba of yore come out to play. The Mamba that could flip the switch and take the game right out from under the nose of its opponents. The Mamba that could dominate like none other. The Mamba the Lake Show desperately needed to appear in the playoffs.
As mentioned previously, Kobe’s rehab had him playing catch up all season long. Therefore I don’t put too much weight behind of the Kobe’s demise talk. Of course he’s lost a step. It’s called the law of entropy and nobody is immune to it – not even you, LeBron.
I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a much different Bryant come the start of the next NBA season. Whenever that is.
What has always made Bryant an amazing athlete is his ability to constantly reinvent himself. Just think of all the different roles he’s had to play over the years. From being a 6th man, to taking on the role of lockdown defender to having to be everything to the entire franchise at one point Kobe has done it all and done so in style.
Now the question is how does he again pull a Madonna and resurrect his legacy?
I’ve always said the true test of a ball player is how their game advances or regresses once the physical skills exit stage left. Greats like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and of course MJ all got better as their game matured with their age.
Another guy that comes to mind is Gary Payton, a onetime teammate of Bryant’s and perhaps Kobe’s best role model during this transition period. Payton was unique because he never had the raw physical abilities to begin with. GP relied on his craftiness, intelligence and superior effort night in and night out to get the best of his foes. Bryant must look to do the same.
Kobe might have turned back time on Emeka Okafor to the shock of many but those moments are few and very far between these days. For the foreseeable future KB24 is going to have to concentrate on playing below the rim while relying on creative ways to get his shot off. Now Bryant will never be unable to get his, he just needs to get craftier about doing so.
Another area that will prolong his playing days will be on the defensive end. Unlike His Airness, Bryant has never received the love he deserves for his defensive talents. You hear the world gush over LeBron finally decided to try and defend yet KB24’s 9 times on the all-defensive first team are mentioned in passing.
All those years of chasing T-Mac, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and D-Wade add up. It’s not like Kobe was being asked to check these guys in the first quarter only when his legs were fresh. More often than not Kobe was grinding out stops late in the fourth under high pressure circumstances.
Adding Ron Artest and Matt Barnes to the mix have helped but neither of them is getting any younger either.
We can debate this all day and night and then get started again the day after that. The bottom line is Kobe still has plenty left in the tank. He’s not going to be the Kobe of ’05 that destroyed everything in his path. That was something to behold. But given his known work ethic, the care he takes of his body and the burning hunger that still consumes him, Bryant is not going to give up the throne that easily.
If you put me on the spot I’d say Kobe has another two good years of 82-games + playoffs left in him. After that it’s all about what nature dictates.
So if you think Kobe can’t get another ring or two because he’s past his prime I’d advise you not to take that to the bank. If there’s one thing that keeps Kobe going it’s when others doubt him. That alone should let you know there’s ample reason to believe he’ll dig deep to find whatever is left.