Nothing marks the end of an era in a sport like the retirement of one of its greatest players. Kobe Bryant was the most marketable and recognizable player of his generation. His ferocity, athleticism, and flash appealed to fans all over the country, and not only the United States, but the world. An all-star in only his second year in the league (as a sixth man for the Lakers), Bryant gained attention at an early age and retained it.
One of the most consistent scorers in NBA history, Kobe’s prime saw him averaging 27-35 points per game while shooting at roughly 46%. His career average of 25 points per game and shooting percentage of 45% reflect his offensive consistency. Although a great scorer, he was also a nine-time All-Defensive First Team player, making him one of the most complete players of all time as well.
Ok, ok… That’s all I can do for praising Kobe. We all know Kobe from 1997-2013 represented the Lakers as one of the greatest players of one of the greatest franchises in all of sports. Five Championships, seven appearances in the NBA Finals and more validate his greatness during that period, but post-injury Kobe Bryant is a completely different story.
After recovering from an achilles injury the year before, Bryant played six total games in the 2013-14 season after suffering from a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee. He did so after signing a contract valued at $48.5 million over the span of two years. Knowing that he was physically not what he once was, far from full health and an injury liability, Kobe still accepted the deal.
Nearly $50 million for a veteran player in the twilight of his career was an absurd deal for Kobe, and an unreasonably expensive deal for the Lakers. As one of the legends of the game, Kobe had to know he was going to have to own this contract. That means accepting criticism should it be warranted, dealing with skepticism, and accepting the reality of playing in a market like Los Angeles. Honestly, I think Kobe has accepted that, but has everyone else?
Kevin Durant recently discussed his disappointment in the media’s treatment of Bryant, saying they’ve “treated him like shit.” Every time I look on social media I see one or two posts echoing similar sentiments, saying Kobe has been mistreated over the last two years.
Guess what people? It’s ok to criticize players who get paid fifty million dollars to shoot thirty percent. Bryant has played horrifyingly bad basketball in the last two years, shooting at just over thirty percent, averaging well under twenty points per game while taking nearly twenty shots per contest. It’s not as if his shot selection has been great in the past, but as his body has failed to do what it once could, Kobe has hardly adapted his game. As mentioned, a nine-time All-NBA Defensive First Team star, his defensive skills have diminished as well. So why can’t he be criticized like an elite player?
I’ll play devil’s advocate here, let’s say he warrants respect because of his previous accomplishments. Ok, we already talked about that here. Everyone know’s what Kobe has done for the game of basketball on and off the court.
But let’s take Tim Duncan for example, arguably a better overall player than Kobe. While Kobe signed a two-year $48.5 million deal, Duncan signed a two-year $10.4 million contract. As Bryant’s skills have steadily declined, Duncan has averaged 19 points per game, while shooting at nearly 50% from the power forward position. He’s collected 11 rebounds per game and brought the Spurs to two NBA Finals and won one of them. If anyone warrants respect in the final years of his career, it’s Tim Duncan.
Don’t expect the media to kiss the ass of a “Fifty-million dollar player” in Kobe Bryant if he’s producing at the rate he’s been producing at. The Lakers have not been able to rebuild partially because of the deal they’ve given him. I’m not saying it’s all his fault in any way, I’m just saying it’s certainly been a factor.
I respect Kobe Bryant. I think anyone who has watched basketball for the last twenty years has to. His place in history will be constantly debated for years to come, and I have no problem saying he’s one of the ten best players to ever step on the court.
With all that being said, the media can do whatever they want in regards to criticizing the Laker legend as far as I’m concerned. In the end of the day, 2-4 is just going to do what he’s been doing for years and years now, and taking that money straight to the bank.