This week is the last week of the 2012-2013 NBA regular season. The Los Angeles Lakers were able to scrap together a push to the playoffs, and with some help from a free falling Jazz team, they snagged the 7th seed. The Lakers are now in the playoffs but, they have no chance to win even a series, let alone the title*. As shortly as 10 days ago, you could have made a case that the Lakers were starting to gel, that they could put together a run, once they reached the playoffs. This case hinged on Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant who at age 35, during his 17th year in the league, had reinvented his game. When it was evident that Steve Nash was no longer the player he once was, Kobe took over point guard duty. He became an assist monster and a triple-double threat most nights. Game after game, he showed us his superior basketball IQ. He used his skill, knowledge and wisdom of the game to make those around him better. He lead a team that was so depleted by injuries they were starting players that wouldn’t even get a roster spot on other teams. He was willing himself and the Lakers to the playoffs. With only a few games left in the season, Kobe was continuing on his torrid pace. Kobe was playing more minutes per game, 38.6, than anyone in the league except Luol Deng, who logged only 0.3 minutes more per game and is 8 years younger than Kobe. Did I mention that Kobe Bryant is 35 years old?! In every one of the Lakers previous six games, Kobe had played 40+ minutes. He was on minute 45 in the game against Golden State.
Kobe was making a dribble move he had made thousands of times before, something popped and he buckled to the floor.Kobe tore his Achilles tendon. As Kobe collapsed so did the Lakers chance at a run in the playoffs.
I admit for most of his career I’ve been a Kobe hater. He’s too selfish, he’s too arrogant, he doesn’t play team ball. He’s the one who couldn’t coexist with Shaq or Phil Jackson. Kobe’s persistence and drive has worn away at my hatred, like flowing water over granite, and over the past couple of seasons I’ve come to admire and respect him. This season especially he showed us that he understood what it meant to put team first. He became a facilitator and a true leader. He also continued to give 100% every game*. During his post game interview was the first time I ever saw Kobe Bryant as a vulnerable human being. His shock and anger were fully present, not enough time had elapsed for him to process it all. The pain, you could hear it in his voice and see it on his face, not physical pain, but the pain of loss. A lost playoff run, a lost opportunity at a title, the loss of competition, that’s the pain that was etched all over his face.
Later that night Kobe erupted on Facebook. This is the beginning of his post:
“This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that?? I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me…”
He finished his self titled “rant” with these words, ”Thats ‘mamba mentality’ we don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.” And just like that Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant was back. The confidence, once considered arrogance, the drive, the persistence were all present, his competitive nature was taking control again. I expect that Kobe will return from this injury and still be an All Star caliber player. I expect to admire and respect him even more when he does. More importantly, I hope he returns. The NBA is a much better league when Kobe is playing in it. This will be only the second time since 1997 that Kobe won’t be playing in the NBA playoffs. He’s a playoff staple (I’d like my kick back now Staples). I hope he makes it back so we can talk about him surpassing Jordan’s career points total, so we can talk about him tying Jordan’s six championship rings. I hope he makes it back so I get to see him play the game he loves. Kobe, I wish a speedy recovery for you. It’s no fun watching the Thunder beat the Lakers, when you aren’t on the floor doing everything you can to win.
Other notes from the 2012-2013 NBA regular season:
Kevin Durant lost his chance to join Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win 4 straight scoring titles. He held the top spot for most of the season until Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks went on an end of the season tear. In Anthony’s last 8 games he scored at least 30 points. In five of those last eight games he scored 37 points or more, including three games of 40 or more. (Oh and just in case you were wondering who came in 3rd for the scoring title. That’s right, it was mother fucking Kobe Bryant.) While Durant didn’t make history with a 4th consecutive scoring title he did enter another elite club, the 50-40-90 club. That stands for 50% or better Field Goal percentage, 40% or better 3 Point percentage, and 90% or better Free Throw percentage. The only other players in the history of the league to accomplish this feat are Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. That’s some pretty damn good company to be in, not a bad “consolation” prize. If you ask Durant what he thinks about it, I’m sure he’d tell you he could care less and all he wants is to win the Title. Speaking as a Thunder fan, that’s one of the many reasons, I’m a huge Kevin Durant fan*.
*1) If the Lakers somehow win a series or two I’ll give you your money back for this article.
*2) Special thanks to Bill Simmons whose thoughts I have borrowed (more like stolen) for this article.
*3) Kevin Durant played one season for the Texas Longhorns. That season happened to coincide with one of the 5 years I was a student at the University of Texas. This is the main reason I’m a Kevin Durant fan. Hook ‘em Horns!