Though the Sixers season mercifully draws to a close tonight, and in the sudden reveal of Doug Collins pending departure GrowthPlates was remiss in covering the quite probably career ending injury to our most hated (and possibly respected) foe, one of the great heels of Philadelphia sport, Kobe Bean Bryant.
For oh, for oh! The fall of Bryant! As the brash and mighty basketball demi-god is laid low by nothing less mythic than the sundering of his achilles tendon. We can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued had The Fates allowed this to happen at the Wells Fargo Center and Philly fans had been able to bestow coveted “Philadelphia Crown of Laurels” upon our Prodigal Son (but, maybe that’s for the best…)
PRAISE FOR THE FALLEN BRYANT
While I can’t understate the simmering loathing that GrowthPlates feels for Bryant, let us not forget the weighty merits of his Game; a transcendental Nastiness that achieved Beauty, even Grace.
While we would dispute Kobe Bryant’s place on any Top-5 list of all-time-great ballers, he is perhaps the nastiest and most aesthetically visceral offensive force in the history of basketball.
Over a 17 year career that has defied time itself, Bryant has morphed from prototypical soaring/slashing 2-Guard protagonist (in the vein established by Dr. J and perfected by Jordan) into the master craftsman of midrange precision and deception. Trading his explosive elevation for the greatest arsenal of fakes, fades, and punishing guard post-ups that the game had ever seen.
Kobe is a baller of rare paychology, possessing an extravagance of natural gifts (his cup runneth over) yet never dulled by this abundance. Instead he was determined to miserly squeeze every drop of basketball brilliance out of his body. The maniacal head-space of someone seeking not just greatness, but to be the greatest.
For this, he has earned our grudging respect.
Here he is establishing the non-Wilt-Chamberlain record for most points scored in an NBA contest, 81 against the Toronto Raptors.
(who, so amazed by the searing beauty of Bryant’s performance, decided against double teaming him at any point during this game. Exhibit A against the Raptor’s head coach, Sam Mitchell’s, Coach of the Year award. Impressive nonetheless…)
BRYANT AS THE MOST OVERRATED GREAT PLAYER IN BASKETBALL HISTORY
1) Kobe’s Championships
Bryant has played in 7 NBA Finals, and has won 5 of them. Hardware that forces him into Greatest-Of-All-Time discussions. But spending his early career in Shaq’s shadow, we would offer that he was only the best player on the court for the 1 of them, the 2009 Finals victory over the Orlando Magic.
As for his 2010 Finals MVP performance against an undermanned Celtics team, I’ll draw your attention to the skin-tight Game 7, as Bryant shot 6-24 from the field and 0-6 from 3 (and 27 total turnovers for the series).
Here he is going Evan Turner in the deciding game…
(By the way it’s AMAZING how much Evan Turner looks like Kobe on shitty day)
Meanwhile the perennially underrated Pau Gasol pulled the Lakers back from the brink of a 3-2 series deficit with a near triple double in Game 6 and a 19 point 18 rebound (9 offensive) effort in Game 7. But I think we all knew there was no chance Gasol was winning that MVP…
2) Kobe Unimpressive Defense
And this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff in discussions when discussing the greatest players of all time, did they dominate on BOTH ends of the floor. It was true for Jordan (who captured a defensive player of the year award while averaging 35 points per game in 1987-88) and it is true for Lebron.
I offer this illuminating video of a match-up with the Cavs this season (cut to the 1:15 mark if you want to see some truly disinterested play).
The advanced metrics that attempt to fully capture defensive impact, WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) and Win Share not only rank Bryant far outside the Top 10 of all time, they have Kobe as only the third best player of his generation, behind Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett; two excellent offensive players who were/are all-time great defenders.
3) Everybody Forgets Shaquille O’Neal
No time to get into the pathos laden feud that is one of the cornerstones of Bryant’s legacy, but suffice to say that the devaluation of the sheer dominance of Shaquille O’Neal during Bryant’s first three championships is an essential part of Kobe’s myth-making machine.
Yes a near decade of fat/slow/not funny Shaq have dimmed our memories…
But here he is showing the unique combination of power and dexterity that allowed him to rag-doll the Indiana front-line of Rik Smits and Dale Davis (probably the modern day equivalent of defenders Roy Hibbert and Kendrick Perkins)
and what the hell, some Orlando Shaq…
4) Finally, Kobe Bryant Isn’t Actually Cool
I get it. He seems cool. The 4 dollar words (often misused), the conversational grasp of Italian, the impenetrable aloofness.
But I would offer that if not for the admittedly great basketball play, Bryant is just a preening asshole who vastly overestimates his own intelligence, and who no one really likes. Not surprisingly Bryant’s most ardent fan is invariably the biggest asshole in the room.
Evidence that Bryant isn’t cool, just a dick:
A) Bizarrely dragging Shaq into his Colorado rape investigation
B) Snitching on Paul Gasol
C) Holding a press conference to give himself a nickname (the Black Mamba) and completely ripping off a popular movie at the same
If Dr. J never touched a basketball he’d still be cool, If AI never touched a basketball he’d still be cool. If Kobe never touched a basketball, well he’d just be one of his own fans…
AND YET... I still can’t help but feel some sadness, not just because of the premature loss of one of the great talents, but becuaseyThe NBA is about entertainment, and just like a good book needs a good villain, so does a basketball league. And Bryant was one of the best.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for one more twist…