I think I owe Kobe Bryant an apology.
Mind you, not a ‘real’ apology, not a, “oops, I just slept with your girl, my bad” apology, not one of those. It’s more like one of those apologies writers offer up to people we’ve never met, and in all actuality, have never truly wronged. To understand that you have to understand that I’ve written millions of words in my time and eventually somebody somewhere isn’t taking too kindly to said words.
Now granted, I don’t write to get praise from the subjects of my stories anymore than KB plays ball to get cheered at opposing arenas or get high fives from opposing players. I don’t write anything that’s false, and any opinions are made evident as such, staying within those parameters, and being quite frank, I don’t have to apologize for shit.
When a writer, particularly this writer, apologizes for something, he does so when fact, common sense, and maybe even a little professional courtesy dictates he do so, but more than anything else, out of sheer self motivation. It’s nothing that can be fully explained in the space of just a few words, but to summarize, it’s something that hits you when you’re staring at a blinking cursor and realize, Kobe Bryant is going to blow up this year, and before he does, you better makes things right.
Now understand, I’ve been called a Kobe Hater more times then I’d care to admit. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know how people justify the connection between what I write and some supposed disapproval of anything that man does when his sneakers touch hardwood, but it’s been there nonetheless. Maybe it was the time I dissected the Lakers on the pages of this very site and called out Kobe’s inability to get them to the playoffs without Shaq (months later I was proved wrong). Maybe it was the time I called Kobe Bryant the "pornography of basketball" on another site. Certainly it stems from my feelings towards that incident in Colorado, something that now seems like it was lifetimes ago. Criminal or not, that hotel room soiree will probably have Kobe the man on my permanent bad side – if only on moral grounds – but there should never be an assumption that Kobe the basketball player has ever done enough to garner any serious disapproval from this writer.
Sure, I harped on some issues early in his career, but Kobe in 96′ and Kobe in 06′ are two different entities. And in part, it’s that realization that’s led me to this piece. Russ Bengtson of SLAM magazine probably hit the mark first when he said Kobe Bryant is tracing Michael Jordan’s career, only in reverse, grabbing the championships first, and getting the huge individual success later.
With that thought in mind, I think the path of Kobe’s career is about to take a turn that could encompass a combination of those two phases.
Before I typed the first sentence of this article, I’m not sure I fully realized it, it hadn’t hit me yet. But I think this realization started to develop over the first round of last year’s NBA playoffs.
The Lakers had gotten in as a seventh seed and I was all too quick to call the series in Phoenix’s favor. It was a simple idea, I thought, "Kobe can score 100 points in a single game… but not 120." Flawless reasoning, right? Well no, because I was still thinking of Kobe’s career in two black and white pictures: winning, and not winning; being the man, and not being the man. Until that point, I didn’t want to admit he could do both.
The 62 points in three quarters was great, the 81 was phenomenal, but what Kobe did in that first round against Phoenix, that may have been more impressive than anything else he did last season. Facing a team with no defense to speak of and being the league’s most potent scorer, the temptation to try and shoot his team to victory every game must have been mind boggling, but when faced with the choice of doing his same old thing, and trying something new for the sake of winning against a team he couldn’t possibly our score by himself, he made the right choice and put team first.
It wasn’t just the philosophy of what Kobe did, it was the execution of it. He didn’t just decide to play nice and share his ball, he actually put together the type of games that were in reality just as good as any high scoring outing, only in a different sense. He was more attune to when and where his teammates needed to get the ball, he raised his defensive level, his rebounding went up, and when the time came for Kobe to take over and win the game, he usually did.
The Suns may have won the series, but there was a point when it looked like not only would the Lakers beat the Suns, but that they were ready to make a real push deep into the playoffs. And it’s on that possibility, that I form my stance on Kobe and the Lakers this season.
My take on the Lakers has taken quite a turn since the beginning of last season, when I predicted that they would finish the year hovering around .500 and miss the playoffs. In a year’s time I never expected to switch gears this fast, but then I never expected them to be this good. Young players like Smush Parker, Brian Cook, and Luke Walton have shown more promise than I expected. Hell, even Kwame Brown has shown some flashes. But it is still Kobe’s squad, and the Lakers’
success rests entirely on his shoulders. Fortunately for the Lakers, Kobe is more than capable of shouldering that responsibility and taking the Lakers to another postseason run. I’ll go on record right now as saying that the Lakers will not only make the playoffs again this year, but make a second round appearance, and if the match up is right, even sniff a shot at the conference finals.
What I want people to realize is the realization that led this piece to being real: Kobe Bryant is about to have the best year of his career, and as such, we may be about to witness the single greatest individual year in the history of basketball. Kobe has come to the point where he’s about to put it all together, he will be great, his team will win, and just to put some icing on it, somewhere along the way this season, Kobe will score 100 points in a single game.
And it’s that reality that pushes my digits to keyboard, the reality that Kobe Bryant is about to take his game to an unprecedented level, to win, to win big, and push his stat box to triple digits. Whether you’re me, one of the supposed haters, or one of the real self proclaimed Kobe haters out there, and you’re faced with that reality, you don’t make excuses, you don’t rationalize your hate, you don’t dodge your own words, you just admit and apologize.