It happens to every athlete. No matter how well conditioned, prepared and talented Kobe Bryant might be he can’t escape the inevitable. Now the inevitable is twofold in Bryant’s quest for another title.
For one Kobe has to contend with Father Time, an opponent with a perfect record. You can extend your bout with the time keeper but you’re not going to beat him. That is a guarantee. During the 2011-12 season Kobe rolled back the clock. After looking like his career was in clear decline Bryant went to Germany to get his knee right and went to work to get his game back to where it should be. Still, all he’s done is given Father Time an extended window to do damage.
As for the second edge to the sword Bryant is dueling with, well that is something he cannot control. That would be an emerging team with the potential for becoming a dynasty. As we all know many a great NBA player was denied the chance at ring due to timing. Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and John Stockton all have the same misfortune in common. They were all in their prime during the Jordan era. Same goes for a few modern ballers that had the great misfortune of running into the Bryant buzz saw. Is Oklahoma City the next great hoops squad? Only time will tell.
What we know for sure is that Bryant wants another ring or three…yesterday!
Bryant admitted his impatience after the Lakers bowed out to OKC. He also showed the tell-tale signs of an athlete entering his denial phase, that point in time when the mind is willing but the body cannot.
To be sure Kobe didn’t show many signs of slowing but the decline is undeniable. Bryant’s game is still so polished that he’ll be able to compete at an elite level for at least two to three more years. But you can’t ignore some of what we saw this year.
Kobe’s continued insistence on being the alpha and omega of the Lake Show cost his team dearly. In Games 2 and 4 against OKC Bryant played a large roll in letting the Thunder off the hook with costly turnovers and poor shot selection. Adding to Bryant’s case of denial, after each contest Kobe offered poor reasoning for the Lakers’ faltering down the stretch including the excuse of the Thunder gambling blindly by jumping into passing lanes. I’m pretty sure every team does that when they’re trailing late.
Aside from the playoff shortcomings we also saw Bryant’s shooting percentage hit its lowest number since his second year in the league. Some of that can be attributed to the Lakers lack of any perimeter scoring outside of what KB24 brings. Another part of that relates to legs that were worn down by the hectic schedule.
Either way there is a downward trend that cannot be overlooked.
What separates the all-time greats from the rest is that focused determination despite any obstacle. Bryant was defiant all year long when the prospects of his team’s title chances were questioned. We know how that ended.
Now Bryant is defiant when questioned about the possibility of winning another title in his career. We don’t know how that is going to end but we know Kobe will die trying. You can’t help but respect Kobe’s approach. His all or nothing mentality is refreshing considering how many athletes there are these days that hide their ambitions for fear of failure. Still, that same mentality can create for some painful falls when goals aren’t met.
We all know Kobe still has what it takes to lead another title contender. The real question is will he ever play with a collection of talent capable of hanging another banner and if so will his occasional selfish tendencies get in the way? Having already built and then rebuilt a dynasty around Bryant the odds of that happening a third time are long not to mention the emerging teams around the league.
Nothing has ever come easy for Bryant so this phase will prove as difficult as any task he’s ever taken on. Trying to convince a dominant player that he needs to take a step back is nearly impossible. For our sake let’s just hope this doesn’t ultimately end with Kobe in a Bobcats jersey diving for loose balls while his much younger teammates simply look on, unwilling to match his nightly efforts. We’ve seen that story before and we know how it ended. Kobe should heed the warning.