This evening, the Los Angeles Lakers raise No. 8 and No. 24 to the hallowed rafters of the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement is a day we all knew was coming even back in his early, fresh out of high school, playoff air-balling days. There was just something about Kobe. He possessed a level of fearlessness and wanted to remind us of another 6-foot-6 shooting guard that refused to lose.
While today should, and largely will, be a celebration of the Black Mamba and his litany of accomplishments, has there been a superstar in recent memory that leaves us so conflicted?
On one side, you have the “Kobe Stans.” Those made up of primarily 24- to 32-year-olds who grew up on Kobe. Those that’ll tell you five rings is more than three, that’s why he’s better than LeBron. Those who value individual one-on-one domination within a team game. Those who love the idea of the “alpha” male, the unquestioned leader who says “f**k it I got this!” There is something to be said for that.
Then you have the “Kobe Haters” made up of supreme Jordan fans, LeBron fans and anyone who is anti-Lakers. Then there are those in the middle who appreciate what Kobe has accomplished but detest hero ball and don’t even think he’s the best player of his generation. That group might argue Tim Duncan.
This is what makes discussing Kobe so fascinating. His game was so awe-inspiring and at the same time confounding. When it was going well, like the 2004 Conference semis versus the Spurs, the 2001 Conference semis against the Kings or the 2008 Conference Finals against the Spurs; it is the stuff of legend and left your mouth agape, talking about it for days.
But there is the other side of “Kobe Ball.” The 2006 and 2007 playoffs. And of course there are the raw numbers. Kobe never shot higher than 46 percent from the field for a season or 34 percent from three in his entire 20-year career. That shoot first, assassin, gunner, chucker mentality shot his Lakers out of many games in his career. Not to mention playing with Kobe wasn’t always fun.
But he gave us moments and they were all delivered for one franchise. The NBA’s gold standard (apologies Celtics fans). The 81-point game against the Raptors, Game 4 of the 2000 Finals against the Pacers. Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Celtics, Game 7 of the 2000 Conference Finals against the Blazers. He was the 2008 league MVP. The 2009 and 2010 Finals MVP, and a member of countless all NBA teams. A first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the three or four greatest Lakers of all time. Can’t rank him ahead of Kareem or Magic. Does he rank ahead of Shaq?
A man with those types of accolades and accomplishments can’t be overrated, can he? His “stans” will tell you he’s underrated. A more rational objective person might tell you he’s properly rated.
I will say, he’s a talented player with supreme confidence, all world skill, and the temerity to take any shot at anytime. One of the four greatest Lakers of all time and one of the 15 greatest players to ever play the game.