Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Keep Shooting, Kobe: A Tribute to the Black Mamba

It’s apparent in the past few seasons that Kobe Bryant hasn’t really bounced back after going down from an Achilles injury.  Now, he could have had recovered from that, but other parts of his body started failing as well.  He had the reputation of playing well through injuries that would have sidelined other players.  But this isn’t the case nowadays.  Kobe can no longer play at a high level with his battered, worn-and-torn body.  Coming to this realization himself, Kobe has recently announced that he will retire after this season.

It’s painful to watch Kobe these days.  It’s so clear how awfully much of his game he had already lost.  And yet, despite this, his stubborn will and competitive spirit just won’t allow him lessen the volume of his shots.  The result is as cringe-worthy as one would expect – 15.5 points per game, making only 5.2 of the 16.9 shots he takes per game (30.5% accuracy), and the Lakers’ record is 2-14 (as of writing).  In comparison, in his last season, Michael Jordan was averaging 20 points at 40%.

With an abysmal performance this season so far, retiring is, of course, the wise move.  With Kobe gone, the Lakers will now be able to fully concentrate on building the future with their trio of promising young players (Clarkson, Randle, and Russell).

And yet, when Kobe officially announced his retirement via a wonderful piece in The Players’ Tribune (wherein he’s a contributor), I felt a lump in my throat.  It’s still a saddening thought.  I grew up looking up to Kobe Bryant.  He was a major factor why I get to love the sport of basketball, and he was the biggest reason why I became a die-hard Laker fan.  As I rooted for him and the Lakers through years, he has brought me much delight as an NBA fan.

And now, it’s finally over.

I really wish fate had allowed him to accomplish much more.  How I wish he never had that blasted Achilles heel injury.   How I wish his body didn’t broke down, allowing him to play until he’s 40.  How I wish he had won a couple more MVPs.  How I wish he would end up beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.  How I wish he won two more championships – heck, I would have settled for just one more!

In addition, it would have been nice if Kobe had been able to “adjust” his game to that befitting to the current stage of his career.  What I mean by that is for Kobe to “tone down” his itchiness to shoot; to be patient, prudent, and smart instead of aggressive; to play with limited minutes; to let his younger teammates carry most of the load; to be satisfied to be more of a “support” than a “main hero”… you catch my drift.  Kind of what Tim Duncan has been for the Spurs.

But this is Kobe friggin’ Bryant we’re talking about.  He is incapable of “toning down” himself.  It’s his blessing and curse.  He probably tried, but the fire and pride within him just won’t allow him to “tone down.”  He is incapable of deferring to teammates in taking The Shot, for if he doesn’t take The Shot himself, he will be forever haunted by the what-could-have-been.  That’s simply how Kobe’s psyche works.

We fans of course prefer Kobe to go out in a blaze of glory.  However, we unfortunately won’t be able to have that.  There’s no indication that his play and health will improve this season.  In fact, it’s more likely to believe that they’ll get worse.  In his last season, we’ll have to sadly witness him have a ton of godawful games.

But if we truly understand who Kobe is, this is something we have to accept about our hero’s last chapter.  He will continue to struggle, but he will keep on stubbornly shooting a lot.  For a guy like Kobe, he’s driven to shoot and shoot and shoot… until he can shoot no more.  It’s what we love and hate about him – what made him so polarizing and distinctive.  It’s what makes him Kobe Bryant.  Thus, in a way, for a player like Kobe, there’s something fitting and even romantic about this final season.

And as genuine fans, we’ll cheer and applaud no matter what – enjoying every game he will play this season, and cherishing every second.  30% shooting?  We won’t care even if it drops to 20%.  2-14 record?  We won’t care if Lakers end up with 2-80 (not really, of course.  But you get the point).

Kobe Bryant a.k.a. The Black Mamba has brought so much joy and glory to Lakerdom when he was still playing amazingly.  Now that he’s in his final season, I think it’s more than okay to let him be himself one last time even when he’s already playing terribly.  In this sense and to a certain degree, I would have to agree with Byron Scott that “he has earned the right.”

So… keep shooting, Kobe.  Shoot as much as you want and can.  It doesn’t matter to me now even if you miss almost all of them.  I will be cheering and applauding till the end.  Because once that final buzzer sounds, it’ll finally be The End.  You’ll be forever gone.  And I will definitely miss watching you in purple and gold, looking back to the days you were leading the Lakers to battle.  

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