Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Full Court Press 4.13.16: Kobe Bryant, The Last Of His Kind #KB20 #Kobe

The Last Of His Kind
By Randy Groce, @ImissWiggins

My boss Chris Williams (@nevaRWilliams), asked me to write an article about my favorite Kobe moments. I can't. There's too many. Instead I'd like to write a quick eulogy instead. He's not dead, but after April 13th his career will be. The moves, the dunks, the stare will all be gone. There's only one other guy in the league who might possess what Kobe has in terms of determination, skill, athletic ability, and the mindset to not care what anyone thinks and not be afraid to fail. We'll talk about him later. 

It seems as though there is only two ways to feel about Kobe: hate him or love him.

For probably the first 10 years of his career most fans, and some non fans of basketball hated him. They had a gun, and with that gun they possessed five fatal bullets that they would fire during any "Kobe related"argument.

He wanted to be Michael Jordan.
He shot those airballs.
He raped a girl.
He snitched on Shaq.
He got Shaq traded.

In all actuality, only two of those were true, you figure out which ones. As a rookie, Kobe shot 4-14 in a game 5 playoff matchup against the Utah Jazz. He'll always be remembered for the four airballs that he shot in crunch time. Can you imagine how many guys who have played that sport that if that had happened to them at the age of 18 would have let it affect the rest of their career? Are there any other players, then or now, who could have spent all day in court while facing rape charges and 20 plus years in jail, then hop on a plane, get to the arena after the game already started and still drop 40 points? Kobe did. He somehow found a way to turn two completely different tragedies into fuel that would drive him to be the superstar that he is today. 

Kobe was far from perfect. He took too many shots when he should have passed and he was never really a true leader. He didn't trust his teammates, clashed with coaches, and hated the triangle offense. Unlike players of this generation he didn't want to be your friend. He didn't work out with opponents DURING or after the season. He wanted to beat you. Badly. He didn't want to be like Mike he wanted to be better than Mike. He emulated everything that Michael Jordan did, there's no denying that. MJ's walk, talk, gum chewing mannerisms, fade away, all of it, he took from Mike. His competitiveness is what separates him from the rest. The final time the two faced off against each other Kobe scored 55 points, 42 in the first half. That's how you say goodbye to your idol. 

As Kobe exits the game, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce won't be too far behind. They are the last of the Hall of Famers remaining from the 90's. 13 NBA championships between them. There's only one player currently in the league that I feel has the hunger and fight that they had and that is Russell Westbrook. How can you watch this young man's development and not see a direct correlation between him and Kobe. Early in their careers they were selfish ball hogs who had raw abilities that needed developing.
While everyone else told them to be more "team friendly" they continued to do it their way. They both played with another teammate who was considered the best in the game. They both eventually figured it out. Westbrook is still chasing that first ring, but I think most feel he'll get it one day. Westbrook is from LA, his contract will be up next year, and I'm pretty sure Kobe will have a conversation with him when the time is right. 

Kobe will be the first to tell you that he doesn't have many friends. I'm not sure how important that is to him, but he found out this season how many fans he has. Players, coaches, fronts office people have all sang his praises as he plays his final games. The last three years have been a challenge, but at least he's still able to leave the game the way he wants. Number #8 grew up and became a legend while wearing #24.

I expect his last shot to be on the block, right side of the basket, turn around fade away jump shot.

All net.

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