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At its essence, basketball is a game of leverage and angles. The best players exploit physical and mental advantages to get to specific spots on the floor where the odds of success greatly outweigh the alternative. The amount of hours put in to achieve this mastery of body and mind to outplay an opponent is often what separates those who are considered very good in their era versus being considered very good for any era.

Kobe Bryant, whatever you think of him, has built his career on the idea that hard work and learning from his defeats and failures will get him where he wants to be. This idea is detailed wonderfully in this excellent longform piece by Chris Ballard that ran in this week’s Sports Illustrated. It is hard to argue with the results.

The piece linked above is well worth your time for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is a snapshot in time at where Kobe is now, staring at his mortality as his career winds down. There are no more magic fixes from diet adjustments or extra workouts to put in that can reverse the impact of father time. And while the work will be done as diligently and with as much focus as it always has been, the fact remains that there is only so much work that can be done when you have already done as much as this man has.

I am thinking about this more today than others because, as the title of this post states, today is Kobe’s birthday. He is now 36 years old, entering into his 19th NBA season after being drafted as a 17 year old. You can do the math and see that Kobe has been an NBA’er more than half his life now, all those years soldiering for the team I root for.

Today, then, is as much a celebration for Kobe as it is for fans. He has given so much to the game he loves and, in turn, to us, the fans. Even if you hate him as a player, you will miss him when he’s gone. That, really, may be the quintessential statement about Kobe. He didn’t always do it the way you wanted him to, but by doing it his way he always gave us something worth discussing; worth marveling over. He may not have earned your cheers, but he certainly earned your respect.

With that, I’ll close with one of my favorite highlight clips of Kobe. It is titled “The Clinic” and has over 5 million views on youtube and targets plays from the 2007-2009 seasons. I love this video for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it captures the many aspects of Kobe’s game that reflect the work he’s put in. Sure, you see the athleticism, but you also see the footwork, the smarts, and the unrelenting attack style that his career has been built on. The video shows his genius as an all court player. Mostly, it shows the Kobe that I’ll mostly remember — devastating, driven, and the guy I loved to watch every night. Happy Birthday, Kobe.

Back in the summer 2002, Kobe wasn’t necessarily at the peak of his powers, but he was definitely at the top of the NBA world. The Lakers had just won their 3rd consecutive title and Kobe had cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. Kobe was also one of the league’s darling players — this was before the major public feuding with Shaq, before his legal issues, before trade demands. Every player has their detractors, but for the most part, Kobe was teflon.

So, you can only imagine the reaction when Kobe showed up at the famed Rucker Park in New York to play some pick up ball. You can also imagine the show he put on. Only, you know, you don’t have to imagine. You can actually watch it:

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The Lakers are back in action tonight in summer league, facing off against the 76ers in the first round of the “tournament” that has become the second half of the LVSL.

And while the results of this game matter — if the Lakers win they advance, if they lose their summer league is over — I’m not really going to get worked up over what the final score is. If anything, I want them to win only so I get to see more of Julius Randle (and to a slightly lesser extent Jordan Clarkson).

Randle’s performance┬áis, ultimately, the major takeaway from this team. While there are other players who have shown promise, it is the player who the Lakers selected 7th overall whose performance matters most.

In Randle’s first game he did not perform very well and looked like a player who had only signed his contract 20 minutes before tip-off while also doubling as someone who had not played much basketball in recent months. His timing was off, he looked a bit sluggish at times, and wasn’t able to find a rhythm.

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I cannot get enough of these videos.

Now that the season is over it is a bit easier to reflect on the games, the individual performances, and the storylines that go with them. Nash’s attempts to play, experiencing some successes and some failures, at least for me, resonate even more now. Seeing those clips of him against the Wizards and the Blazers brought a sincere smile to my face. Seeing the fans respond to him so positively did as well. I do not know what next year holds for Nash, but watching him put on those point guard clinics, even if they were only in short spurts, never gets old.

The meat of the video, however, is the dinner with Dirk (and a mutual long time friend). Their friendship, and the genuine nature of it, shines through and you can tell that they serious contemplate what could have been had they stayed together. Remember, when the Mavs let Nash go to Phoenix they used the money they could have spent on him to sign Erik Dampier. Of course, Dampier would later be used as the bait that nabbed them Tyson Chandler and the point guard slot vacated by Nash was eventually filled by Jason Kidd. Those two players were, along with Dirk and Shaun Marion, the backbone of that 2011 Mavs title team and it’s difficult to imagine what that team becomes if Nash stays on and his development continues on its upward trajectory.

Sadly, we will never know. Though, as Dirk says, it’s not like their careers ended up too shabby. Dirk has a league MVP, a Finals’ MVP, and a championship to his name. He will go down as one of the best (if not the best) European player ever whenever he hangs up his sneakers. Nash, meanwhile, has not won a championship but won two league MVP awards and is a top 5 assist man all-time. No slouches, these two.

On Tuesday night the Lakers roasted the Knicks, putting on a scoring display that was pretty incredible to watch. After only scoring 14 points in the 1st quarter, the Lakers proceeded to hang 44 on the Knicks in the 2nd quarter to pull ahead at the half.

The real fireworks occurred in the 3rd period, however, when the Lakers scored 51 points to set a franchise record for points scored in a quarter (which was also a record for the Knicks for most points allowed). By my count the Lakers boasted an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 204.0 for the period, though other calculations had it at 197 192 and some change. Either way, the Lakers essentially scored 2 points per every possession that quarter, running the Knicks out of the building in the process.

As I said on twitter at the time, the game got embarrassing and this time the Lakers weren’t the victims. No, this time it was the other team who couldn’t bother to make rotations on time, lost their man off the ball, and looked generally hapless defensively. The funny thing about the that fateful 3rd period is that the Knicks were actually quite good themselves offensively. They managed to shoot over 50% from the floor and put up 31 points of their own. If only they didn’t allow the Lakers to score 20 more points than them in that 12 minutes.

Anyways, enjoy the video above. In a season that has offered way too many lows, the Lakers bombing away on the Knicks was certainly one of the high points all season and is worth celebrating for at least another day.