By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)
With Kobe Bryant‘s basketball career officially over after a Disney-like 60 points in a comeback win, I would like to contextualize his career and him as a basketball player in the manner of one question and one answer.
The answer to that question would be enough in order to grasp what Kobe is like:
Which of these two following career paths would he choose, if he could hypothetically start his career over again?
Overall, it is now fair for one to believe that there were two most likely career paths for Kobe (with someone else drafting him at number three and a trade in the summer of 2008 at number four).
To start off, let’s revisit the path which actually occurred.
It’s the one where he initially wins three titles with Shaquille O’Neal before falling out with him since both of them were alpha males only willing to be the number one guy.
Then playing a few years without a star alongside him, scoring as much as he pleased and, in the end, winning two more titles with a lesser player than Shaq in Pau Gasol landed Kobe in some great company.
This path ultimately resulted in Kobe being remembered as a top10 player and one of the best scorers ever by the majority of people. Moreover, he was talked about in hundreds of debates as an equal or very near equal to Michael Jordan (which mostly was bogus but there’s no denying that it happened for a few years straight).
However, that Shaqobe duo (copyrighted to Bill Simmons) had the legitimate potential of possibly winning at least six titles had they not combusted.
At the start of the 2002-03 season (following the three-peat) Kobe was 24 and still improving. Shaq was 30 and right after his peak. Both were probably among the three best players in the league alongside Tim Duncan.
Staying together with Shaq is the second path I’m offering Kobe in this scenario.
In this career path he probably wins more rings than he does in the real one. He most likely ends up being remembered as the greatest sidekick ever (hundreds of debates of Kobe vs. Scottie Pippen in this galaxy). He possibly becomes one of the best lock-down defenders ever (since he takes on the perfect number two man role and isn’t worn out by taking 30 shots every other game). He gets ranked as about the 20th-25th best player ever.
And most importantly – he gets brought up in debates as the greatest teammate ever. Young stars in midst of clashing would get scolded by the media and reminded of the sacrifice Kobe Bryant once upon a time took in order to win as much as possible. He’d receive limitless praise for his rings, for his commitment, for his hard work and for being the ideal teammate and second option.
Sounds like a fantastic path. More love, more winning and more titles. Winning and titles is exactly what Kobe went after, right?
But if one asked the question and he answered truthfully (something he probably would even do), I’m absolutely certain he’d choose the first one. That’s simply who he is.
The thing is that Kobe has always portrayed himself as the ultimate winner, for whom nothing else matters. Matter of fact, no one can discredit his winner’s mentality. Kobe’s unique work ethic and commitment to the game alone has proven his winner’s mentality.
That being said, winning on his own terms means almost as much to him. The struggle of thirty points per game on forty win teams. The two titles and two Finals MVPs. And, of course, being in the same discussions as Michael Jordan and being one of the 10 best of all-time.
For all of that he can let a couple of those rings slide.
As worn-out as he has been during this season, the 60-point goodbye almost seems logical. Who else but Kobe would close out a career like that? Close out a career on his own scoring terms.