I am so glad that Kobe Bryant is retiring from the NBA.
For the past 20 seasons, sports fans have been treated to the basketball equivalent of an Elvis impersonator. On the floor, in his game and through the relationships he’s formed with teammates, Kobe has been the budget-brand version of Michael Jordan. Good enough, but not quite Mike.
With Kobe’s retirement, we’ll see the basketball death of the last great imitator of the former Chicago Bull. From the one-footed contested fadeaways to the insufferable arrogance, Kobe didn’t go a game without reminding us of His Airness — until the last few seasons. While Jordan didn’t exactly retire at the right time, forcing basketball fans to endure a far-too-long stint with my Washington Wizards, Kobe has recently become the equivalent of an NBA geriatric, clanking away shots at a clip that would make most YMCA pickup ballers blush. Fans of the once-great shooting guard will point to five championships, numerous scoring titles and an infamous 81-point romp against the Toronto Raptors as part of their memories of the Lakers great, but these past triumphs do little to assuage the damage Bryant has done to the organization over the past three years.
Kobe being Kobe has resulted in one of the worst contracts in the NBA, with Bryant slated to finish a two-year, $48.5 million deal this season — at 37 years old. While this contract is bad enough by itself, Bryant has managed to somehow push free agents away from Los Angeles with astonishing ease and damage the development of the Lakers’ most exciting young players.
When the Lakers’ Dwight Howard experiment ended after just one year, NBA pundits couldn’t help but attribute some of the Los Angeles “super team’s” demise to Bryant’s abrasiveness. No NBA superstar would want to be in Howard’s position — going from being beloved and revered in their own city to being told that they’re trash by a washed-up former champ. Howard is soft as a player and poor as a leader, but quite frankly nobody wants to play with Kobe. Say what you will about Jordan being one of the biggest jerks to ever set foot on NBA hardwood, but at least he could recruit teammates — NBA legends Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, as well as other key role players, stayed with Jordan right up until his last season with the Bulls.
The worst thing about late-career Kobe isn’t that I have to listen to arenas full of drunk NBA fans applaud him after the Lakers lose by 35 on every road trip. It’s the fact that potentially talented young players like Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell are losing valuable touches to a guy shooting 30 percent from the field. It’s ridiculous, and the Lakers should be ashamed of themselves for letting it happen.
In his last season, Bryant is making a mockery of his highly successful NBA career while somehow ensuring that Russell and his young counterparts get exactly zero meaningful, crunch-time opportunities.
As sad as it might make those of us who grew up watching Bryant tear defenders apart, the league has moved on from him. There simply isn’t a place for a bitter, crotchety superstar in an era of “Big Three” lineups and team basketball. Players like LeBron James and Steph Curry have become faces of the league not just for their talent as individual players, but also because they’re tremendous teammates and individuals.
With guys like James in the league, nobody wants to root for a last-place squad trotting out a 37-year-old shooting guard who settled out of a rape lawsuit a decade ago. Bryant doesn’t fit the new NBA — which is built more on team basketball and camaraderie among players — and honestly, that’s a good thing.
Bryant may retire as lonely as he was when he played the game. At the cost of building relationships, keeping teammates happy and perhaps maintaining the greatest Lakers roster of the modern era, his three-championship winning lineup with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe has modeled himself after the greatest player ever.
And though he might not admit it, the Black Mamba knows he’s fallen short.
Marc Cugnon is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .