Archives For Kobe

Thank You, Kobe

Darius Soriano —  April 13, 2016

Over the years we have said so much. Now, on this final day of his career, there’s only one thing left: Thank you, Kobe.

(video by @MaxaMillion711)

In a political culture of red versus blue, a sports culture of you versus us, and a general culture of black or white, Kobe Bryant might have been more aptly nicknamed for the areas his career spent the majority of its time in: the ambiguous shades of gray.

This season, and especially this week, has been marked by breathless thanks to Kobe for what he meant to the writer. This isn’t to say those articles haven’t been touching, nor that the sentiment is lost on me to any extent whatsoever. One of the greatest traits of Kobe’s career is just how much he meant to his fans. Few athletes in the history of sport will come close to that relationship, but, I can’t help but feel like that’s telling only a part of the story.

To me, the greatest takeaway from Kobe’s career is how it forced us to recognize the shortcomings of black-and-white thinking. As such, looking back at his career without thinking of both the achievements and shortcomings would be selling his time in the NBA short.

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While the last game of Kobe’s career is Wednesday, April 13, 2016, a concept I have discussed with more than a handful of fans over the past few years is that Kobe’s career really ended on that fateful night in April 2013 when he ruptured his achilles tendon.

Sure, these last three seasons — two of which ended with injuries to his knee and his shoulder — actually happened, but that wasn’t really Kobe. Kobe ran roughshod over the league. Kobe healed like Wolverine and not only played in games with injuries he shouldn’t have, but played well. Kobe was the guy who would play any amount of minutes it took to try and keep his team competitive and then go that extra mile to then win the game.

What we’ve seen in these recent seasons has been a guy who looks like that player and sometimes even plays like him. But, for the most part, we’ve seen a guy who has failed more often than he has succeeded and, to the shock of most who’ve watched him compete for most of his career, seemed at peace with it.

It all started, of course, with the play where he pushed off his left leg to drive by the Warriors’ Harrison Barnes and, instead of exploding to the rim as he had so many times in the previous months of pushing towards a playoff berth, he fell to the floor like a sprinter who lost his footing out of the starting blocks. He clutched at his heel with his thumb and index finger feeling for a tendon which was no longer intact. He endured the pain (and blocked out any frustration of what he’d known occurred) to shoot — and make — a pair of crucial free throws, then limped off the court under his own power.

That walk off the court was symbolic.

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With only 3 games left in Kobe’s career, the focus is almost entirely on the final moments of his brilliant career whether he wants it that way or not. After the Lakers were handled by the Pelicans on Friday, Kobe didn’t express much approval of his point guard saying the goal was to get Kobe the ball as much as possible. On the other hand, Kobe took 10 shots in the 1st quarter of that game, including seven 3-pointers! So if he doesn’t want the ball, he’s got a weird way of showing it.

Again, though, whatever Kobe wants or doesn’t want, isn’t really that relevant at this point. The retirement train left the station long ago and now we’re all on the tracks together. There’s no adjusting course so we might as enjoy the scenery. If that involves a few more forced passes into #24, what does that matter at this point (with 3 games left in the season and his career)?

So, we celebrate the player and his career however we want to. For some, that might mean continuing to root for his departure as quickly as possible. Kobe’s not the most lovable figure in sports — Nike has done a great job of playing that up lately — and I think Kobe is fine still wearing the black hat to a portion of fans. If that means eating up career highlights and reveling in what once was, that’s totally fine too. I mean, he has clips all over the web of him dominating every team in the league. Today’s opponent included.

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Mamba Day is Coming…

Darius Soriano —  April 10, 2016

Nike has labeled April 13th “Mamba Day” in celebration of Kobe Bryant’s last game of his career. They’re dropping commemorative shoes and will surely have more product for your consumption as the day rolls around.

They have also released a great video with their signature athletes (and others, including Phil Jackson) talking about Kobe, telling stories, and describing him in a single word. It’s a great clip. Check it out below.

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After losing to the Nuggets on Friday, the Lakers are back in action today against the Wizards. Friday saw Kobe score 28 on decent efficiency, D’Angelo Russell go down with a sprained ankle (he is doubtful for today), and Julius Randle notch his 1st career triple double. Still, though, it was a loss. The Lakers are now 15-57 on the season, looking less and less likely to even catch last year’s franchise worst total of 21 wins.

The hope is that all this losing translates to the keeping of the team’s top-3 protected draft pick, but we know that’s far from certain. And while it is on fresh on the mind now (especially with March Madness in full swing), it’s also more of a conversation for May when we will know for sure. Fretting today, while a fun barstool discussion, it arguing hypotheticals more than anything else.

These last 10 games, then, are really about the remaining storylines of this year. Which really means it’s about Kobe and the final 10 games of his career. Over these last 10 games, I will post a random highlight clip from the opponent. With today’s game being against Washington, I figured the best clip to show would be when Kobe faced off against Michael Jordan for the last time in Los Angeles when his Airness was a Wizard.

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For the season, the Lakers are still 29th in the league in offensive efficiency. Though they have improved a great deal since the All-Star break — they have posted a 106.1 rating, good for 14th in the league for that stretch — they have fallen off that pace since February 26th (103.2 rating since that date) when Byron Scott implemented a “new set” which has become the base of their offense.

Still, the 103.2 rating since the change is still good for 19th over that period and shows marked improvement over their season long numbers. One of the reasons their offense has improved is because they are running more off-ball actions which help promote side to side ball movement. Byron mentioned an impetus to the change was the analytics staff noting the team was near the bottom of the league in the ball changing sides of the floor (and in making passes in general) and wanted to rectify that.

Hence, a new set, more movement, and more passing. While opponents have surely been scouting what the Lakers are doing and, in turn, disrupting some of their actions, it would be hard to argue against the team doing better. It’s right there in the numbers and, if you’ve been watching, in little wrinkles which are showing up each game.

For example, against the Grizzlies on Tuesday, the Lakers ran a little flare screen action which set up a nice Kobe Bryant three pointer:

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We never got to see Kobe and LeBron compete against each other on highest stage. Their entire careers, divided by opposing conferences, Dwight or Dirk or Timmy or KG always seemed to spoil the match up we longed for most. Instead, we got regular season games, the closing minutes off All-Star Sunday, and them teaming up for Olympic Gold. These may not be the moments which create a true rivalry, but they are moments we will remember all the same.

Thursday night’s game between these two will be the same. In the last time these two players will share the court, they provided some classic moments, reminding us of what made them so great and why we longed so badly for a Finals series between their respective teams.

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