It was almost a year to the day that we published a story lamenting the legacy of Kobe Bryant after he suffered a terrible injury to his Achilles tendon after making a seemingly triumphant return from a knee injury. It looked like we were about see to Kobe go from being a 25 point per game career scorer to some 15 point per game shadow of his former self.
But that couldn’t have been further from the truth and this season has bared witnessed to this fact.
It has been 19 years since Kobe Bryant played his first Christmas Day game and his evolution up until now can largely be measured in terms of number of bigtime, nationally televised Holiday Season Matchups. This year Bryant and his ragtag band of rebel Lakers are looking to show that all they need to win is each other, and a heavy dose of Kobe Bryant.
But this is not the Kobe from days of old, the one referred to as "The Black Mamba."
Remember the precocious boy wonder who willed himself in to the starting lineup and forced the Lakers to get rid of then all-star swingman Eddie Jones and point guard Nick Van Exel by way of trades? This isn’t the “dunking from the foul line, scoring 81 points, arguing with Shaquille O’Neal, locking up the best perimeter player on the other team” Kobe Bryant. At 36 years old, this version of Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.6 points, 4.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 37 percent from the field.
From a distance it appears that this Kobe Bryant is exhausted from being forced to do far too much on a team that, regardless of their win over the League leading Golden State Warriors last night and his Herculean efforts so far this season, needs him to do so much more for them to be even remotely considered for any type of playoff contention. This is a Kobe Bryant who is being questioned by sports media haters for accepting a contract that would pay him over 48 million for the next two years. They say he should have done been more like Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and signed deals that were less than what a perinneal All-Star and future Hall of Famer may have otherwise been entitled to. That strategy has paid off for Duncan as it allowed him to win another NBA championship and add to his impressive, ever growing resume. However Kobe has never been the type of player to shun what he feels he rightfully deserves and, to be perfectly honest, he might even deserve more than the exuberant amount that he is currently making considering his championship pedigree in a city that loves champions, and the fact that he might go down in history as the best Laker of All-Time (apologies to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar).
Recently the never-ending debate of whether Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan was renewed once again as Kobe Bryant passed MJ on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list and yet again that question still hasn’t been put to bed. On Christmas Day millions will certainly tune in to see whether or not he has enough left in the tank to vanquish his foes, coincidentally being the Chicago Bulls, just one more time. After all, with a record of 9-19 and currently 14.5 games out of first place in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs without a few double digit win streaks this season and that's just not going to happen.
But with two years left on his current contract one can’t help but wonder what’s next for "Bean." If he keeps scoring at the same clip, Bryant might have the sickest 19th season in the history of the NBA with an average of 24 points per game.
A comparison of NBA elites in their 19th seasons culled from Lakers Nation illustrates just the type of season Kobe is having.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15.8 PER): 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
- Karl Malone (17.8 PER): 13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists
- John Stockton (21.0 PER): 10.8 points, 7.7 assists, 1.7 steals
But is that enough for The Black Mamba? Well considering the Lakers are likely going to be out of playoff contention for the next two years at least it would behoove Kobe to take a backseat for the sake of team continuity or maybe, just maybe, consider waiving his no trade clause so that he can gear up for one last hurrah with another contender. I know Laker fans, that’s some straight up BS for anyone to even fathom. But he could possibly be the most unstoppable Sixth Man in the history of the NBA on a contender. Think about that.
To some that’s tantamount to saying Michael Jordan was right to segue to the Washington Wizards later in his career and I can certainly dig that, but watching Kobe Bryant try to scrap up some wins for this current Lakers team is like watching an elderly woman with a rock in her shoe drag a garbage bag full of holes to the dumpster without spilling it all over the place.
The Lakers’ braintrust is analogous to the lazy ass building superintendent who, despite seeing the old lady that needs help, YouTubes the sad scenario for Internet laughs and Facebook likes.
But Kobe is no old lady. He’s at least the second greatest shooting guard in the history of the NBA and deserves to go down shooting but with a fighting chance at victory. His attitude, though difficult to gauge at times, appears to dictate just that. So as we enjoy this head-to-head match against young guns Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, just remember that this might be one of the last times you see Bean go gunning for his on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, we’ll be wondering about what’s to come.