It’s Mamba Day in Los Angeles, Mamba meaning the Black Mamba, the Black Mamba meaning Kobe Bryant.
In other words, it’s Kobe day.
Kobe Bryant, objectively one of the greatest basketball players of all time, plays his last game tonight at Staples Center. I could rattle off his achievements but they’re well chronicled; around here today you can barely flip an electronic switch without hearing somebody say “81 points” or “third leading scorer.” His stats are remarkable, but what’s really amazing is just watching him play basketball – it’s almost like some strange evolutionary force made him perfectly suited to the game. He hits impossible shots, he cuts through astonished defenders. In his prime he pretty much made any game, no matter how pathetic, winnable.
But when his body started giving out on him and he decided to call it quits, he had one more remarkable trick up his sleeve – he made his last year in the league the Kobe Show. Nearly every game he played this season had some element of nostalgia attached, and teams all over the country made tribute reels and gave gifts and otherwise acknowledged his impact on the game. There’s never been anything quite like it before. It was such a Kobe thing to do, unapologetically going out with a bang.
Meanwhile, his team could barely whimper.
There’s been some complaining that the Kobe Show has prevented the Lakers from hitting their stride this year, but that’s nonsense. The Lakers are an abysmal team because of incompetent management and – with respect to Byron Scott – mismatched coaching. The team management (I’m looking at you, Jeanie Buss) has some work to do in those areas. There are also some players who resent all the attention the Mamba is getting – well, actually, that’s just Shaq.
One of my favorite Kobe moments came during the first championship run, back in 2001, when the Lakers were in some impossible position in the final moments of the fourth quarter of whatever game it was. Phil Jackson called a timeout, and when he sent the team back out to play the camera found Kobe Bryant’s face. He was just a kid then, and he was charging into the highest pressure situation of his young career with a wide grin on his face. Everything about his body language said, “This is going to be fun!”
The Lakers won. And it was really fun.
(A-Z Blogging Challenge: K is for Kobe.)