So much has been said and written of late about Kobe Bryant, old and feeble and struggling to score over players who, not long ago, wouldn’t be allowed near him on the court.
People say Kobe Bryant has lost a step. Two steps. They say he can’t create his own shot, or defend, or jump, or help young players improve. They say, best-case scenario, he’ll average 17 points on 32 percent shooting for a team that goes 20-62. They say he’s a faded version of his own self, even worse than Michael Jordan, Washington Wizard, and Hakeen Olajuwon, Toronto Raptor.
And they’re right.
Kobe Bryant is a shell of a shell of a shell of what he once was. He looks like Kobe Bryant, and talks like Kobe Bryant, but he’s living that scene in Superman II, where the Man of Steel steps into that machine as a powerful being and leaves as a mere human, flaws and warts and weaknesses and all.
And yet … who cares? Seriously, who the fuck cares? We humans are as predictable as the Florida humidity, and this is no exception. Whenever a great athletes nears the end, we bemoan his final days and question whether his legacy will forever be tarnished. Pick a legend—any legend—and it happened: Ken Griffey, Jr.’s final run in Seattle. Sugar Ray Leonard’s last few fights. Jim Palmer coming back in spring training. Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal, Shaq as a Celtic, Brett Favre as a Viking, Ichiro as a Marlin, Wayne Gretzky as a Ranger, Roy Jones now, fighting in Russia. Hell, I vividly recall Patrick Ewing spending his final two NBA seasons in Seattle and Orlando, and New York newspaper columnists suggesting the odd uniforms and foreign cities would forever scar his legend.
Truth is, Kobe has a right to do this, and we shouldn’t mind. An athlete is a human being who, as the old saying goes, dies twice—once when he literally leaves the earth, the other when his career ends. It’s a process; a coming to grips with the realization that you are not now—and will never be—who you were.
Plus, why shouldn’t he hang on as long as possible? Kobe’s making $25 million this season, flying on a private plane, staying in first-class hotels. Once it’s over, it’s over. So why rush out, simply because a bunch of people feel uncomfortable watching you struggle to dunk? Why rush toward the inevitably dull-yet-necessary career as a (fill in the blank) [commentator/coach/celebrity speaker/automotive dealership owner]?
Take your time, Kobe.
It’s no problem.