Last night is the only time in history when 60 will be worth much more than 73. Kobe Bean Bryant ended his 20 year NBA career last night scoring 60 points while hitting multiple clutch jump shots in a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz. A few minutes before that, the Golden State Warriors earned their record 73rd regular season win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kobe scoring 60 points is nothing new, he has done it 5 times. Kobe taking 50 shots is a career high but totally not out of character, he has missed the most shots in NBA history. During Kobe’s last season we did experience something new though. The depth, compassion and respect we saw from Kobe during his farewell season totally obliterates all the things we thought he was.
Kobe made his name as a cold hearted competitor. There are tons of stories from teammates and even a book from his former head coach Phil Jackson which paint Kobe as a win at all costs type of player. Championships meant more to Bryant than the relationships he had in the locker room. However, without a realistic shot at any team success the past three seasons in LA, Kobe has had to find other motivation to fuel his game.
Throughout this season, it seems as if that motivation has come in the form in coaching his super young teammates and solidifying relationships with his peers around the league. At the end of each game this season Kobe gave out more hugs than Barney. In numerous interviews he praised the superstars of our era and openly offered his wisdom to all who needed it. All this from a guy who once said:
“Smush Parker was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. … I was shooting 45 times a game [in 2007]. What was I supposed to do? Pass it into Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown?”
“There’s certain players that I’ve made cry. If I can make you cry by being sarcastic, then I really don’t want to play with you in the playoffs.”
Even though this seems like a new Kobe, he has had no issue being open in the past. Probably too open. During his time with Shaquille O’Neal in LA, the two would frequently communicate through the media. Kobe always thought Shaq was lazy in practice, and Shaq thought Kobe took too many shots. The worst of it came when the jabs at each other became personal. During Kobe’s sexual assault trial, for some reason he suggested that Shaq had paid off women that he had extra marital relations with:
Eventually, Kobe grew up and two have made up. Through Kobe’s jovial farewell season, he has made these minor missteps seem irrelevant. Our first thoughts will always go to his precise movements and planned actions on the basketball court that made him an all time great.
The last stand of Kobe Bryant is something I’ll definitely tell my future kids about as they watch the final games of Steph Curry or Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis. The Kobe that smile, hugs and scored 60 in his final game, is what will resonate for years to come. But the drama, mistakes and overall hatred for his should by opposing fans is what made him more interesting than the average superstar. Probably even more interesting than MJ.
The Basketball Hall of Fame last night announced that Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson will each be inducted as part of the 2016 hall class. While there are hundreds of all time greats who have been inducted into the hall for the past 57 years, these three stand out as individuals who appealed to groups that had not been represented in any professional sport before. Yao introduced NBA basketball to billions of Chinese citizens and made the game global. Shaq was a dominant big man in the mold of Wilt and Kareem but could run the floor, sell rap records and be marginally funny. Iverson was the one who broke the mold though.
Although Allen Iverson is being inducted into the hall based on his ability to dominate on the basketball court and his jaw dropping statistics, his impact as a cultural icon is what will keep his name in the minds of his fans forever. Iverson was unapologetic when it came to his love for and expression of hip hop culture.
Iverson’s style was his own. He arrived at arenas looking more Method Man than Michael Jordan. The long white tees, baggy jeans, throwback jerseys and durags were something that the casual NBA fan in 1996 was not used to seeing on a budding superstar. The genesis of the Iverson era also coincided with the release of some of hip hop’s most creative/innovative albums in 1996. All Eyez on Me (2Pac), It Was Written (Nas), The Score (The Fugees), ATLiens (OutKast) and Reasonable Doubt (Jay Z) all dropped in 1996.
While Iverson’s rookie year was an introduction for most to what a professional athlete who loves hip hop culture looks like, he was still on a team that only won 22 games. Also, in the middle of the Michael Jordan era, everything else can seem small. It was not until the second MJ retirement and the development of a winning organization did attention turn to Iverson and his different approach to everything.
By 1999, the Sixers were a playoff team with a credible coach, Larry Brown. At this point, Iverson is on a national stage and stays there for the next ten years. He ultimately becomes league MVP in 2001 and steps over the Cavs coach later that season in the NBA Finals.
However, even though Iverson’s star is rising, his hip hop style becomes an issue for owners and NBA commissioner David Stern. In 2005, the NBA instituted a league wide dress code which basically ruled out everything in Iverson’s closet. The impact Iverson had on NBA style was seen a threat to the brand and profitably of the NBA. Even though his talent and leave it on the floor mentality was selling out arenas around the country.
After 2005, Iverson did not win much as a member of the Nuggets, Pistons, Grizzlies and one final stint with the Sixers. However, his legacy remained intact. Current NBA superstars like Stephen Curry and LeBron James all look to Iverson as a reason to play as hard as you can each game. Iverson’s willingness to express himself make it easy for Melo, KD and Russ to openly express their love for hip hop music and culture. This is something that MJ, Scottie or Chuck could never relate to.
The induction of Allen Iverson into the Basketball Hall of Fame equates to the induction of hip hop into the hall. Cant wait for his speech.
Speaking of Jordan…
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson announced at the start of this season that he would be retiring. Jackson has earned 11 championship rings as a head coach and made superstars like Michael Jordan, Scotties Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant into Hall of Fame players. However, during this postseason Jackson is in uncharted territory. For the first time in his career, he is coaching a team in the playoffs that is down 0-3 in a best of series.
The Lakers have struggled against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Maverick in the western conference semifinals. Lakers center Andrew Bynum attributed the Lakers struggles to “trust issues” the two time defending NBA champions are dealing with. These trust issues could result in a series sweep for the Mavericks and a less than spectacular end to the career of the most successful head coach in NBA history.
Jackson has lost playoff series before but never like this. In game three, Jackson was seen beating on power forward Pau Gasol’s chest to get the big man’s attention. Jackson has traded in his usual calm demeanor for a fire and passion that have seen to be birthed from a feeling of desperation.
Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant told the press that he feels the Lakers will be the first team to win a best of seven series when facing a 0-3 deficit. Hopefully for Jackson’s sake, Bryant’s supreme confidence and determination will trump the trust issues the Hollywood Lakers seem to be dealing with. If not, Jackson and his 11 championship rings will be swept off into the sunset by a newer and tougher Mavericks squad.
On June 17th Kobe Bryant won his fifth NBA championship ring by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to an 89 – 73 game seven victory over the Boston Celtics. With his fifth championship, discussions have started about Kobe’s place in basketball and Laker history. Does this championship make Kobe a greater Laker than Earvin “Magic” Johnson? Does this championship put Kobe one ring away from being as good as Michael Jordan? These questions have many answers that can be supported by statistics, history, and highlight reels, however there are a group of people who choose to ignore all the evidence and on court history. These people are called Kobe Haters.
Kobe Haters are individuals who possess an enormous amount of disdain for No. 24. Some hate Kobe because of his shoot first mentality. Some hate Kobe because of his arrogance and the childish attitude that broke up a Laker dynasty, and some hate Kobe for what happened in Colorado.
The biggest reason people seem to hate Kobe Bryant is because of the similarities to the movements and mannerisms of Michael Jordan. Ever since Kobe entered the NBA in 1996 Kobe haters have scolded him for trying to be like Mike. However, since Micheal Jordan has retired Kobe Bryant has been the best basketball player on the planet.
The post-Jordan NBA was hungry for another fierce competitor with an immeasurable will to win. The stand outs of the post-Jordan NBA were champions like the quiet Tim Duncan and the jovial Shaquille O’Neal. Although Kobe and Shaq won championships together, Shaq was the dominant force in their three peat from 2000 – 2002. In 2004, when Kobe attempted to lead the Lakers to another championship against the Detroit Pistons, his teammates did not follow. The team full of veterans led by Shaq and coaching great, Phil Jackson, were not happy with the “selfish” actions of the young star.
After the 2004 finals, Kobe haters all let out a collective “I told you so”. The following season, Kobe and the Lakers did not qualify for the playoffs, and spent the next two seasons being eliminated in the first round. However, what Kobe haters do not realize is that during this down time, Kobe was humbled by his team’s failure. In 2006, Kobe was forced to watch his old teammate/rival, Shaq, win a fourth championship with an up and coming (humble) superstar shooting guard in Dwyane Wade. The early playoff exits and off court troubles led to a Kobe transformation.
During the 2007-08 season, Kobe’s game changed. He still remained the main scorer for the Lakers, but was passing the ball more, and encouraging his teammates to contribute more. This new attitude, plus a new bag of offensive tricks Kobe picked up in the off-season, led the Lakers into the finals against the Celtics.
During the finals, the NBA and the fans finally got to see the competitive fire that made MJ so popular, in Kobe Bryant. Although the Lakers lost, Kobe’s passion was on full display with no sound bites from Shaq to drown it out.
Kobe Bryant has a will to win that is unmatched in pro sports. Even though Kobe is on the wrong side of 30, he approaches every season with a new tool to take the stress off of a body that has millions of basketball miles on it. Most importantly Kobe is on a team full of (young) veterans that now follow his lead.
So Kobe haters, stop your hating and appreciate a quality of basketball we may never see again.