The Man They Call Kobe

12670365_1033058496744073_7863579945600645971_n

Kobe Bryant. Rides into the sunset. Photo by Adam Zaman of Hoops Talk.

 

 

The mere mention of Kobe Bryant to a casual basketball fan would get so many reactions and associations. I, for one, once regarded Kobe as one cocky son of a b*tch, a ballhog, selfish, a once-upon-a-time rapist, The Black Mamba, and a champion. But above all that, Kobe can be described as a great competitor and the closest thing to Michael Jordan this generation ever had.

Kobe’s climb to success and immortality began in high school when he led Lower Merion to championships. By that time his HS coach saw how hardworking he is, the classic “first one in and last one out.” Most of the time, he’s the first one in the gym and the last one to leave after practice was over.

1996NBADraft-500x362

NBA Rookies Class of 1996: (L-R standing) Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jermaine O’neal, Steve Nash, John Wallace, and Antoine Walker (L-R sitting) Ray Allen, Kerry Kittles and Samaki Walker

By the end of his senior year in HS which included a date with then R & B singer Brandy, Kobe decided to join the NBA, obviously following his dad’s footsteps (Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant who once played for the Philadephia 76ers). Kobe would be joined by future all-stars and very good role players in that said draft. In my opinion, the ’96 Draft bridged the gap between the ’90’s kids and the old-time viewers, and made the NBA the global phenomenon that it is today.

Picked as the 13th pick of the draft by the Charlotte Hornets, Kobe never had a chance to take his (raw) talent to the Hornets because he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran center Vlade Divac. According to stories, Jerry West wanted Kobe so much after seeing Kobe destroy draft prospect Dontae Jones one-on-one during the Rookie Combine (tryouts). Kobe would then join the retooled Lakers who, at that time, just drafted Derek Fisher, and had players such as Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, and free-agent signee Shaquille O’neal. The future seemed set.

By this time, some of my friends and classmates were going gaga over the Lakers. Plus, the fact that Kobe was voted as an All-Star a year later made me raise my eyebrows, at that time, I thought he was overrated. After all, he was lackluster in the 1997 Playoffs against the Jazz, throwing bricks and air balls in Game 5.

Kobe Bryant, Game 5 1997 NBA Playoffs

Seeing those air balls and missed shots made me smile, I mean, I was a Kobe hater. I laughed my ass off with every air ball he threw. (But to be fair, watching it right now, his shooting form seems awkward and his release is a piece of shit.) Those air balls perhaps were the turning point of Kobe’s career, a lightning rod, similar to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls getting KO’d by the Detroit Pistons in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The Lakers were once again humiliated by the Jazz this time in the Western Conference Finals, though.

During the lockout shortened season of 1998-1999, the Lakers traded Elden Campbell and Kobe’s mentor Eddie Jones for Glen Rice, BJ Armstrong, and JR Reid. The message was clear: the Lakers management was set to make Kobe Bryant as their franchise shooting guard. While the regulars produced wins, they found themselves eliminated by eventual NBA Champions The San Antonio Spurs.

By the 1999-2000 season, they were primed and ready to make a run for the title. Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers all the way to the Finals. Kobe was also instrumental in beating the Portland Trailblazers in Game 7, and this further fueled my absolute hatred and contempt for the guy. His showing in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers despite a busted ankle, especially in overtime when he literally dragged the Lakers, was Jordan-like. Kids compared him to Jordan, even worse, I hated that “fact”. The Lakers would go on to win the NBA Finals in 2000, 2001 and 2002, validating Shaq and Kobe as NBA superstars.

During the Laker Dynasty years, an on-and-off-again relationship between Kobe and Shaq started. I mean, they argued like a married couple, they argued who should be the Alpha male for the Lakers. This feud also marked the end of the Laker dominance for the first half of the last decade and was punctuated by their upset loss to the Pistons back in 2004, at which time the whole team feuded, with Kobe allegedly hitting on Karl Malone’s wife. Shaq packed his bags and signed with Miami, and the once reloaded Lakers were now left with bread crumbs of a roster, with only Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher as recognizable names (wait, there’s Kwame Brown hahahaha) in the lineup. I laughed at Kobe’s failure, karma for “raping” a girl back in 2003 (which actually he didn’t do, according to the girl now), karma for all the hearts he broke during the dynasty years.

The span of 2004-2007, I’ve seen a lot of improvement from Kobe, yes, I still see him as a ball hog, but as a scorer, he was getting better, impossible shot after impossible shot. His game-winner against the Phoenix Suns in 2006 was one for the ages.

Kobe’s game tying and game winning shot vs Phoenix Game 4

By 2007, I started admiring Kobe, watching him every time the Lakers were on TV was something, it was like watching Michael Jordan if he was a ball hog (oops). Kobe was like a 50-point game waiting to happen–after all, he had an 81-point performance years back against the Raptors. By 2008, Kobe, Phil Jackson, and the Lakers found the right formula. After a timely trade that gave them Pau Gasol, the Lakers were once again serious contenders. Kobe and Gasol conspired to lead the Lakers all the way to the NBA Finals, only to go down in 6 games against the Celtics. Kobe also won his only MVP award at the end of the season. By 2009, he once again led his Lakers to the Finals, this time against the Orlando Magic. After watching Shaq get his championship with Miami in 2006, Kobe finally got one. I remember that I was in Bohol at the time he won his championship. To this day, I haven’t seen Game 5, but I was happy for him.

images

The Black Mamba getting his 4th NBA Title and his first NBA Finals MVP.

Bryant’s successful 2009 campaign led to another memorable 2010. With Pau Gasol, the Lakers ran through the West and met the Boston Celtics for the 2nd time in 3 years in the NBA Finals and boy, what a series it was. In a gritty Game 7, the Lakers erased a 13-point deficit to beat Boston. Kobe won another one. I don’t know if I should be happy since I wanted the Celtics to win one again, but then again, even with bad shooting, Kobe found ways to contribute, scoring 23, getting 15 boards and 13 dimes.

022d056d400bb51f07735ec29371f329

Kobe celebrating his 5th championship

I actually remember 2 days before Game 7, someone was asking for an off swap, my Friday off in exchange for her Sunday off. Game 7 happened on a Friday morning in the Philippines. She was asking if she can have my Friday, I told her no, I wanted to watch Game 7. She then replied I can watch the replay, I told her NOOOOOOOOO and left.

 

 

For the Laker franchise, 2010 was their last appearance in the NBA Finals with Kobe. Burnout for playing in 3 consecutive Finals set in or maybe perhaps they met the much hungrier Dallas Mavericks (who won in 2011) in the 2nd round. In 2011, the Laker Nation bid goodbye to the Kobe-Phil Jackson partnership.

In the waning years of his career, we still saw Kobe being competitive, we still saw Kobe making impossible shots after impossible shots. By this time, I was a Kobe fan (not a Laker fan, a Kobe fan). But his injuries late in his career robbed us of the chance of seeing him in full strength and Dwight Howard’s laziness robbed the Lakers organization and its fans of a trip to the NBA Finals, and yes, I have to add Mike D’Antoni’s dimwit coaching also robbed the Lakers of a chance of winning every game.

Come November of 2015, Kobe announced his retirement. He said he would retire by season’s end. The basketball world was in a somber moment, as one of the best players, if not the greatest, of this generation bids goodbye. Kobe even wrote a poem entitled Dear Basketball. Read it here.

Well, there go my memories of Kobe. In ending this piece, I want to tell all my readers, all 10 of you, that Kobe is perhaps the next best thing to Michael Jordan. No, that doesn’t make Kobe better than Jordan. Jordan will always be Jordan, he will never be touched, ever or at least for now. But aside from the moves Kobe copied from His Airness, those fadeaways, dunks, even free throws, Kobe’s qualities that make him the closest thing to MJ in this generation are his competitiveness, his attitude, his abominable will and never- give-up attitude. Hey, he could have left the Lakers and gone to another team after his team sucked balls from 2004-2007 but he didn’t. I guess that’s what separates him from a guy I’d rather not mention. Kobe is truly like MJ, Bird, Magic, Bill Russell, and other legends of the game. One of a kind. Thank you, Kobe.

Kobe’s last game highlights

Advertisements

The 2012 – 2013 Lakeshow: A Box Office Flop?

High above the Staples shows the number of championship and Laker greats in the past

High above the Staples shows the number of championship and Laker greats in the past

When you mention the word Lakers to any basketball fan the different words will come to mind, Magic, Wilt, Kareem, Worthy, Shaq, Kobe and all other later greats recently the name Dwight Howard was mentioned and former MVP Canadian Steve Nash can be included in those word association. (well other than the words Champion and perhaps the Celtics – due to their rivalry and other lore or lores that such as the Magic Baby hook, Fisher’s .3 will make the cut as well).

Before the start of the NBA season as discussed here in this blog as well, the Los Angeles Lakers pulled the trigger that landed them prized center and former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic while giving up the oft injured Center Andrew Bynum (which landed in Philadelphia). Suddenly the world is abuzz, with the recent signing of veterans Nash and former All-Star Antoine Jamison the Lakers we’re suddenly the team to beat, retaining some of their core from championship past such as Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, the chance of tying the Boston Celtics with the most titles in the NBA is suddenly becoming a reality (Celtics has 17 NBA titles while the Lakers sits in 2nd place with 16). With Coach Mike Brown steering the Lakers, it seems nothing could go wrong, and of course the collection of talent the Lakers have in their fold, Brown will have a field day on what to do, and how to molest defenders while he shuffle and make mismatches on defense and offense, and of course expectations where high, even with the resurgence of the Oklahoma City Thunders, the always consistent San Antonio Spurs, and the surging Memphis Grizzlies the whole NBA and I daresay the twitter and facebook world went nuts, fans celebrated others show concern on chemistry and others proclaimed them to be a shoo in champs or at least a Finals Berth. Analyst breakdown the Twin Towers of LA and how Kobe and Nash can molest the perimeter and the paint with their penetration and shooting.

Fast forward to the start of the season, they suddenly find themselves humiliated by the Portland Trailblazers (they registered an L against the Dallas Mavericks the previous night), where Kobe Bryant registered 7 turnovers and with Steve Nash out of the line up because of injury. Despite winning against the Detroit Pistons (in an emphatic fashion) and once again dropping the ball against the tough Utah Jazz team, Mike Brown was fired as head coach after a dismal start of 1 W with 4 L.

With Brown’s firing as head coach, the chances of seeing Phil Jackson back in the City of Angels and coaching the Lakers is at an all time high. The management reportedly went on to ask Jackson to have his job back and Phil REPORTEDLY meditated on whether he will come back (like a Zen). The world and the Laker Nation waited on the edge of their seats but the stars did not align properly. In a shocking turn of events the Lakers hired former Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni, who is known for his high octane offense that he ran with Nash and Amare Stoudemire (now playing for the cross conference rivals the New York Knicks) and the rest of the Phoenix Suns. The Suns enjoyed a huge amount of success with D’Antoni as he brought the Suns back a top of the NBA mountain though not winning an NBA title, D’Antoni’s Phoenix team was beloved because of their offensive style of play which relies on running, quickness and agility to outscore opponents and leave them to dust. While D’Antoni who previously coached the New York Knicks (with Amare and Carmelo Anthony and once with Chauncey Billups now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers) to a minimal success (though he introduced the world to Linsanity by giving him a chance to play and run the injury riddled NYK team).

Tasked to bring this Laker Superteam together D'Antoni continues to contribute to the Laker slide.

Tasked to bring this Laker Superteam together D’Antoni continues to contribute to the Laker slide.

Everything seems to be sunny in LA, with Nash returning to the floor and Howard slowly getting his groove (and to some extend up to this time he’s slowly getting his grove back) and Gasol and Kobe providing veteran leadership the Lakers looked or seemed to be heading to the right direction.  Though the WINS are not coming in bunches the Lakers are still finding their identity with D’Antoni and the coach finding the right spots for his players and how to slowly drive the D’Antoni system into the teams persona, then suddenly a bad dream struck. The Lakers suddenly lost 6 straight games to the East Coast Rival Philadeplhia 76ers, Staple Center Rival and City Rival The Los Angeles Clippers, Conference Rival the Denver Nuggets, The Houston Rockets, another rival in San Antonio, and the young OKC Thunders. With their Win Loss card at an atrocious 15 W to 21L the Lakers rebounded with solid wins against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers and the improving Milwaukee Bucks, the future looks bright despite Pau’s injury the Laker fans are looking with much optimism against Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Though the Lakers lost the game due to bad late game decisions, people have seen improvement and the Lakers are ready to jump and kick into high gear, this was also Pau’s first game after sitting out because of an injury though they were sparingly used together by D’Antoni, due to offensive efficiency. They played horrible the next game eventually losing to the Toronto Raptors (where Howard was ejected in the game with a questionable Technical Foul) and took on the Chicago Bulls @ the sold out United Center, the game where D’Antoni named Earl Clark as the starting Forward while Gasol and his US$ 17-19M ass would have to come off the bench in favor of Clark and Howard despite having a solid Olympic run with Spain. The Lakers on the other hand we’re a disgrace against my favorite team. The Bulls hounded Howard, forcing him to pass off, loss his balance, turn the ball over, miss the FT, shoot bad shots, and sit on the bench for most of the game. While Kobe had a rough night against Bulls sophomore guard/forward Jimmy Butler making him shoot the ball horribly. Gasol on the other hand had a solid outing with 15 points and 12 rebounds it wasn’t enough to help the Laker cause. The Bulls loss was also famous for Craig Sager talking to Pau and the world was able to hear it first hand.

After having an awesome MVP like Olympic performance Pau finds himself in the Laker bench

After having an awesome MVP like Olympic performance Pau finds himself in the Laker bench

Now, Pau Gasol I talked to before the game—he is not at all happy with the decision. He says, “I have never been a role player in my life; I don’t like it right now.”

I said, “What about a possibility of maybe your time with the Lakers coming to an end with the All-Star break…the trade deadline?”

He said, “It certainly looks like a possibility to me.”

The Laker drama just never ends, while in between days off Bleacher Report and its loyal followers went abuzz about what team would need the services of Pau, though articles suggests that teams such as theMavericks (where Marc Cuban declared they will make moves, they too having a disappointing 2012-2013 campaign), The Minnesota Timberwolves, and even their opponent a few hours from now The Memphis Grizzlies had their names thrown in a fantasy/rumor mix of trade possibilities for the Spaniard. While that was happening, Kobe has also voiced out his frustration by telling Yahoo! Sports that:

Former MVP Kobe Bryant voices his opinion on the Laker struggle

Former MVP Kobe Bryant voices his opinion on the Laker struggle

                      “Obviously, this isn’t working,” 

And to take a line from Y! Sports. On the issue of Howard’s belief that the ball simply doesn’t go through him enough on offense, Bryant rejected the premise.

And Kobe’s response was a chilling.

“I’ve tried to go out of my way to get him the ball,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot – take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.”

And you can read all about his frustrations in this article just follow the link below.
http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba–kobe-bryant—this-isn-t-working–101830224.html

In that video as well Shaq went out of his way and even said that:

They (the Lakers) probably won’t make the playoffs.

To make matters worse or worst or maybe beyond that, Howard was reportedly growing unhappy( http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/8871264/sources-los-angeles-lakers-growing-concerned-unhappy-dwight-howard ) apparently he hasn’t signed an extension and a Howard trade is also a possibility. Sorry but the story was written while I’m trying to finish this so perhaps I’ll write it in my next piece.

If the problem cannot be fixed it's safe to say that the Lakers won't have this celebratory high fives in-game and postgame.

If the problem cannot be fixed it’s safe to say that the Lakers won’t have this celebratory high fives in-game and postgame.

Either way people can attribute the Laker woes to either of this stuff that I thought of.

1. Bad coaching. To echo the sentiments of Bill Simmons, if you can’t put your best players in your gimmick system then something is wrong. Just like I said in all D’Antoni’s team, they can’t guard a parking lot.

2. The Lack of Chemistry, can be attributed to bad coaching as well and perhaps the wrong mix of players in one team, Magoo Marjon of FTW sports even went on to say that the Lakers should look for a bar fight where they can be together and build chemistry from there.

3. Jim Buss. Damn this guy made some bad decisions this year, he didn’t hire the right replacement since he fired Mike Brown (where he should have stayed patient) and not keeping the primadonna named Dwight Howard. Howard hasn’t signed an extension which puts the Lakers in danger, imagine at the end of the season and if the Lakers didn’t make it to the playoffs or make a strong run at least in the Conference Finals, Howard might be out of town again. “Good job”.

With that I close this piece and with a heavy heart and say that if they don’t Fire D’Antoni, Free Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard, or at lest they can’t find the right chemistry to run their team and of course Jim Buss suddenly tries keeping all the pieces together and in a way make some moves or at least make them accounted for their millions and millions of fans. With that I see them struggling to make the playoffs with 41 games left they should start this Laker Superteam working.

Thanks to BleacherReport and DailySportsPages.com for the pictures.

Special thanks to BleacherReport and Yahoo Sports for insights and opinions and of course the quotes.

Mid way to the season the lakers are 17 – 24 Win Loss card.