Writers Josh Yarbrough and Gerron Scott discuss one of the most polarizing players to ever step on the basketball court: Kobe Bryant.
Josh: Tonight Kobe retires. Kobe by almost universal recognition is a top 10 player all time. I have three favorite Kobe moments:
Kobe 1: the 2000-2001 playoffs
Kobe and Shaq’s apex. They thrashed the league through the playoffs, only losing one game and beating the brakes off everyone in their path. Kobe was at his best all around here. He was Shaq’s sidekick but it was 1a and 1b. At that time he was the most well rounded player in the league. After this title, you would be convinced they would win 5 titles together. But egos and egos got in the way and they won one more and broke the team up 2 years later.
Kobe 2: 2005-06. This was the 81 point year. Kobe at this point would average 30 a game on anyone, he was unstoppable. It was in the shadows of Shaq and Kobe’s breakup and Kobe was hell bent on proving his dominance as a solo act. Saddled with a shit show for a roster, he drug and bullied that team into the playoffs. Should have won MVP this season but was snubbed for Steve Nash.
Kobe was raw. That's the only way to describe his performance. The 81 point night stands out because I remember the morning after; I was lying in bed half asleep listening to SportsCenter. I remember one of the commentators, I think Stu Scott, recapping Tracy McGrady’s performance, a night he scored 40 against the Pistons. He scoffingly stated "which was only half of what Kobe did!” I thought it was a dream but instantly perked up once I heard it. Watching the highlights it was unbelievable. I eventually saw the game on replay and was astonished. It was awe inspiring and terrifying all at once. The looks on Phil Jacksons face a basketball purist and legend was priceless as he was looking at a performance hard to put into words.
Kobe 3: 2008 Olympics. The US team had been embarrassed in 04 and 06 and was deemed the redeem team. Kobe played the role of defensive stopper and it was fascinating to watch him meld into a team player, a cog in a machine that starred Wade, Lebron, Melo and other stars. He played the role of Bruce Bowen flawlessly, suffocating whoever he checked for minutes and halves. But in the title game, a tense tilt with Spain, Kobe morphed into Kobe and took over offensively, willing that team to the gold. It was as if the team all knew to step aside and let the master take over. A true team effort that would not have been possible without Kobe’s sacrifice.
What are your three favorite moments?
Gerron: My three favorite Kobe moments:
1. When he dunked on Yao Ming. Yao Ming was hyped (rightfully so imo) to be the next best thing. As a Laker fan, if the next best thing is not on the Lakers I do not respect it as much as I probably should. That is why when he dunked on Yao I was probably more excited than Kobe was.
2. The foul shots after he torn his Achilles. Say what you want but his level of grit is something that no player has ever matched. Most people would not have gotten up from that. To come back in the game and make both free throws is incredible. It showed me that there as long as you have willpower that you can accomplish anything.
If Kobe Bryant was a hero he would be Green Lantern. In fact he and John Stewart (the black Green Lantern) have a similar personality. Both are loners that understand to achieve greatness you have to work as a team. Both are relentless competitive and drive want those around them to match it. The willpower that Green Lantern and Kobe Bryant exert are much more than most people could manage.
3. I was trying to pick different moments than you but his 81 point outing is the greatest performance I ever seen. For all the crap he gets about his poor shot selection now, I do not care. At his prime those were his shots. You could not guard him. There are only two people in the league that could probably best that score: Steph Curry and Damian Lillard.
What is your favorite and least favorite thing about Kobe?
Josh: My favorite thing about Kobe is his dedication to his craft. Kobe worked on his game obsessively and as brilliant a mind as the league has ever seen. He could've averaged 10 boards a game, 10 assists, steals any category he trained himself to. I saw that in the Olympics how he revamped his game to play with the talent around him. He was absolutely brilliant.
What I hated about Kobe was his ego. The big number I come back to is his shooting percentage which in his prime hovered around 45%. Jordan was at 50 in his prime. Kobe could get any shot he wanted to but he settled too much for the impossible and the circus shot. It was baffling and infuriating. He could've played a cleaner game. If he could've put his ego aside, he and Shaq would've had a couple more rings. He could've taken over once Shaq got older. With the Gasol teams, he was better at it and picked his spots better but he still couldn't shake that huge ego. He left a bit on the table (everyone does).
Is Kobe the GOAT of our generation?
Gerron: His ability to block everyone and everything out is both my favorite and least favorite thing about Kobe. His ability to focus on what he wanted to do is amazing. He would work his ass off to become good at what he wanted. Where it went wrong was that he turned it into a defense mechanism. He could have taken better shots if he wanted but he wanted to prove to everyone he could do it his way that he did not. For the most part it worked but once his body started to fail him and advanced metrics saying his playing style is not ideal it backfired.
Kobe Bryant is absolutely the GOAT of this generation. Tim Duncan is 1B. Let me start this by saying I do not consider Lebron and Kobe part of the same basketball generation. Kobe's GOAT status comes from the fact that he was a thirteenth draft pick. Scouts were not sure if he would live up to his potential. Duncan was said to be a can’t miss prospect and he has been but he is not the GOAT. The GOAT cannot just be measured by on the court performance because if that was the case there are a few players that should be ranked ahead of Jordan. Kobe is a megastar. His jersey is more popular overseas than almost everyone else's. He helped save American basketball in 2008. His personality gave people a hero to cheer for and a villain to root against. People love Duncan's game but are indifferent about the rest of him. No one has ever posted up and yelled Duncan but how many people have attempted a fadeaway and yelled Kobe?
What is the one thing you will miss about Kobe?
Josh: His competitiveness. He was an ornery angry son of a bitch. This era, its very buddy buddy, the 90s was a hostile. I'm glad Kobe never got caught in the zeitgeist and stayed true to his personality. His become more open the past years as his basketball life was winding down but in his prime he was a lone wolf and I loved him for it.
When we look back and compare Kobe and Lebron, his biggest modern competitor, I think Lebron will be looked on more favorably. This is due to his personality as much as the way he plays. Lebron plays an unselfish game whereas Kobe is a killer, a throwback to an era where stats like efficiency and metrics meant nothing and killers instilled fear and wilted teams through sheer tenacity. Kobe was never the icon of Jordan, he was a loner. Jordan was a killer on the court but was friendly off of it. Well he had friends, he enjoyed the camaraderie. Kobe was a solo operator. He always reminded me of Alex Rodriguez, brilliant talents but always a distance. Never to be fully embraced, not crafty enough to create a public persona that as easily digested by the masses.
He leaves the game a giant, the closest thing to Michael Jordan most of us will ever see. Maybe not beloved but respected to the highest level.
Is there anyone currently in the league now that reminds you of him?
Gerron: Maybe Chris Paul (OHH what could have been). Man that really pisses me off. We would have at least two more championships. Chris Paul is the last person to have a skill set and the willpower to take over a game. Lebron and KD has the skill set and Kyrie Irving and Westbrook have the willpower but they all lack the perfect and deadly combination of the two that earned Kobe Bryant the nickname the Black Mamba. In his prime everyone believed that Kobe could keep his team competitive and could sometimes win games by himself.
Has Kobe helped you learn anything about yourself?
Josh: Kobe taught me that obsessiveness is a compliment. There is no shame in being obsessed with excellence. If you dream big enough and work hard enough , push the limit, than amazing things can happen. It's not a perfect skill but it's necessary to have it on some level.
What has Kobe taught you?
Gerron: To be relentless in my pursuits. To always keep your eyes on the prize. To know, that to accomplish great things you will have to make sacrifices that others will not. Never let anyone distract you from your goals. Too often we get distracted by people or things that do not want the same thing as you. It is OK to leave those people and things behind. To never quit chasing greatness because once you think you achieve it, greatness will escape your grasps.
However you feel about Kobe Bryant, there is no denying his impact on basketball. It did not matter if you rooted for him or against him: He was always himself and he gave basketball fans a hell of a show.
Leave us your favorite Kobe moment good or bad in the comments below.