Wednesday, June 10, 2009
On The Future of Kobe
I still believe that the Lakers will win this series, and I still believe that Kobe will probably pour in 50 in one of these last few games, and I still believe that Kobe will be named MVP of these finals, and I still believe that his puckered gameface is the most frightening manifestation of an athlete's subconscious since the Tyson Era. But the today's essay question centers on Kobe's fatigue, on the fact that he has played nearly 1,200 games in his career (regular season and playoffs), and on whether perhaps this is the last of the best of Kobe Bryant we will ever see. It is a legitimate query when you examine the numbers: 82 games each of the past two seasons,* top five in minutes played four times since 2002. It would be the most shocking moment in the strange history of Kobe** if he were to suddenly hit a wall in the second half of a single game and find himself unable to ever again recapture his shot, and I don't expect that to happen--I expect Kobe will most likely defy the historical numbers and be able to play at a peak level for at least two or three more years.
But what last night did, at least for me, was lead me to wonder, for the first time, about what will happen when Kobe's career does begin its inevitable unraveling. How will it end? Ala Barry Bonds? Ala Woody Hayes? Considering that Kobe in full competitive fervor often tends to make Jordan appear magnanimous by comparison, and considering that Jordan's career essentially ended in Peter "James" Bond fashion, and considering that even now, at the height of his powers, Kobe appears one Luke Walton misstep away from rolling back prices to 1965, what will be his denoument? For that matter, does he have any hobbies? Golf? Model airplanes? Genesis concerts?
I don't know if Kobe has the power to reinvent himself, or if he will be able to actually find a purpose once basketball deserts him. In fact, I wonder sometimes if he's ever even thought about it, or if he is so singularly focused that he may actually become the first player in modern basketball history*** to spontaneously combust on the hardwood.
*Which raises another question: Why would Phil Jackson not insist to Kobe that he sit for at least one to two games each month during the first half of the season? Isn't that why Memphis is on the schedule?
**Well, OK, second most shocking.
***At least since Red "Red" Rosenbaum of the Rochester Royals in 1946.
(Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)