This season will be memorable, and mainly for all the wrong reasons. Sure, we’ll remember the Steve Blake game-winner in Houston, the opening night win over the Clippers, or even the night in Cleveland where the Lakers won with four eligible players. But those moments were memorable because of their context: bright spots in an otherwise dark season. There were multiple historic losses, numerous embarrassing defeats, and one record-breakingly bad season. But of the many things to be associated with this season, Kobe Bryant will not be one of them.
And maybe that was his plan.
Kobe Bryant played in just six games this year, tallied just 83 points, saw the court for under 200 minutes total, and was in and out of the Lakers lineup quicker than Smush Parker’s 15-seconds of fame. After going down in Memphis, Bryant was a regular figure on the bench for the first couple weeks, but slowly faded into the background. No longer was he attending road games, choosing rather to sit at home, distanced from the team both physically and psychologically.
While his tweets indicated he was still watching the team, he was hardly APART of the team. When it was announced that Bryant was done for the season, his press conference felt more like a scathing threat to Lakers management than a vote of confidence. He challenged the front office to return the team to prominence and voiced his preference to “win now.”
Then came the tweet on April 16th. To Bryant, the season was over and he was processing where to go from there.
The problem was, the season wasn’t over. The Lakers still had another game that night, but Bryant was no where to be found. In fact, Bryant wasn’t even in the country. He left with his family for Europe, a short vacation before a grueling off-season. While Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, neither who suited up, were present for the Lakers road win in San Antonio, Bryant was enjoying the Eiffel Tower.
In a season where his team and teammates needed a leader, Bryant was no where to be found. With a host of young players eager to learn, the situation presented itself for Bryant to step up and be a leader. Instead, the Black Mamba retreated to locker room to watch games and disassociated himself with the worst team in franchise history. His message was clear: “I had nothing to do with this.”
If we’re reviewing Kobe Bryant’s season, it’s a split grade. On the court, he receives an incomplete. There was too little time with too little results to properly grade his success. Off the court, there was plenty of time with plenty of possible results that Bryant failed to produce on. Winning spoiled the Lakers fan base, but has it spoiled Bryant?
As losses piled, blame was dealt out, and Bryant avoided most of it. If that was his mission, he succeeded. The finger was pointed out Jim Buss. At Mitch Kupchak. At Mike D’Antoni. At Steve Nash. But never at Bryant.
With certainty, fans can expect that Bryant will give his all to get back on the court. Hopefully, he’s as close as possible to his old form. Hopefully, he plays a full season. But most hopefully, Bryant is there, win or lose, injured or healthy. This team will need a leader through thick and thin, and Bryant has to be there.