As Kobe Bryant prepares for his final NBA game Wednesday night, fans and analysts are left trying to make sense of a brilliant 20-year career.
Five NBA titles, 18 All-Star appearances, third on the all-time scoring list, the will to win, the ability to take, and make, absurdly difficult shots – the NBA is truly saying goodbye to a legend.
“That was the thing with Kobe – degree of difficult didn’t matter,” Bleacher Report NBA senior writer Howard Beck said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I think he embraced and even sought out high-degree-of-difficulty shots. I’d see him split double-teams, split triple-teams, and at times it’s maddening because you’re sitting there going, ‘What are you doing? This is not the smartest path. Hit your open teammates, find another way, you don’t have to take on the world on every play.’ But that was just the defiance and the ambition that he played with. It was kind of uncontainable. There were times when he reined himself in, and there were times that he occasionally was a little bit out of control or on the verge of it, but that’s part of what made him so fascinating and so entertaining. And to see him hit those shots, to see him hit the high-degree-of-difficulty shots, to see him hit that double- and triple-team and succeed and even draw the foul – that’s what makes the great ones so fascinating.
“I’ve said this before,” Beck continued, “but in Jordan’s later years, we had all these guys who were labeled as Heir Jordan, the Next Jordan and they pretty much all flamed out, couldn’t take the burden of it, or just weren’t up to the task, weren’t good enough, had the athleticism but not the will or the intelligence. Kobe is the only guy who embraced that Heir Jordan concept and took it on willingly and succeeded with it. He’s the closest thing to Jordan that we’ve gotten. There may come another at some point, but he’s a guy who absolutely relished taking on that burden, that role, and didn’t mind the comparisons.”
Scott Ferrall truly believes fans will feel the Kobe void next season and in the years to come. He knows the NBA will still be good, but he also thinks it will feel “naked” without Bryant.
“I hear you,” Beck said, “but I also think in some sense, Kobe has already been gone for a couple of years. He lost a couple almost full seasons to injury. The last time he was at his peak was three years ago. This season has been kind of a sentimental journey and not a competitive one. You see sparks of what he could do here and there, but he can’t summon it every night and he’s not the same Kobe. So in some respects, we’ve already said goodbye; this is just kind of a formality. Yeah, it’ll be weird that he’s not even in jersey and not on the roster and not in games but the league is in great shape. Durant, Westbrook, LeBron, Anthony Davis, the Warriors are fantastic and they’re incredibly entertaining.”
Steph Curry and the Warriors may have the best chance of matching Bryant’s five NBA titles, but for now, they have one.
A lot needs to happen.
“It’s too early to say,” Beck said. “I don’t know. Its always the unknown. It’s injuries, it’s someone else coming along, it’s the misfortune that strikes, salary caps – something will usually get in the way of a team trying to become a dynasty. But the Warriors certainly have the talent and are young enough that they could do this thing for a long time perhaps. It’ll be different. They’re not that kind of player, but Kobe is kind of that throwback. He’s from another era.”