Since he announced his retirement, effective at the end of this season, Kobe Bryant has played more like the Kobe of old than the broken shadow he has become. The “Kobe of old” here is the Bean, the player who came off the bench and won a Slam Dunk contest before ever winning a championship. In those days, through 2006 in fact, Kobe sported the number 8.
Since undertaking his own re-branding a decade ago, he has worn the number 24. Like any decent American sporting organization – because this is how we choose to honor our favorite athletes in this country, for better and for worse – the Los Angeles Lakers will eventually hold a jersey retirement ceremony for Kobe. What number they will retire, however, has sparked debate, with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak saying it could even be both 8 and 24. Plenty of teams have retired the same number for two different players, and plenty of players have had their number retired by multiple teams, but if Kobe has both of his numbers retired by the Lakers, that may set a new precedent.
The question is, if Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker Ever™, why stop at just the two numbers he actually wore?
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes
of the earth will wail.
We knew this was coming. It was written, and now it shall be done. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, predicted this a year ago. With a quasi-poem in the Players’ Tribune, Kobe Bean Bryant, arguably the most intense and focused human being ever to walk this planet, let alone play this sport, announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at the conclusion of this season. In light of his throwback, 31-point performance, including a game-sealing shot, let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the greatest, and most divisive, players ever.
Wake up, dust off your finest Jordans, throw on a pair of sunglasses and tell the world to deal with it, because the NBA is finally back on your television tonight. Three games featuring five playoff teams from a year ago, including the defending champion Golden State Warriors, return us to the hardwood. So much has transpired this offseason, it can be easy to get caught up in it. Such is life in the 24/7/365 NBA, if you allow it to be.
We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.
It’s almost the middle of September, which means it’s almost October, which means it’s almost time for basketball season. With the NFL stumbling over itself at every turn – which, come to think of it, is how most of its current players will spend their autumn years, in their mid-40s – and baseball casually winding toward the postseason (we see you, Mets), basketball still stakes a claim in some part of the sports conversation, even if you aren’t watching EuroBasket games in the middle of your afternoon (On Wednesday, Italy mounted a comeback to force overtime and beat Germany, 89-82). Tuesday’s announcement that NBA division winners are no longer guaranteed playoff spots kick-started much of the hibernating excitement which will roll us into the upcoming season.
With basketball season breathing down our necks, it’s time to start considering how some of the pieces of Adam Silver’s puzzle will fit, how they will interact with one another and how they can realize their potential. One of the most interesting teams for this basketball season has long been a laughingstock, even with a generational talent who may very well be the best pure center in the NBA. Now, that team has two potential game-changing centers, as well as a hodgepodge of players who either grew out of previous roles or never quite fit into them in the first place. The Sacramento Kings aren’t good, yet, but they could be, and they’re seemingly better; they aren’t stable, yet, but they were for a brief time last year; and they aren’t a favorite, which may end up making them one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
I know this gentleman’s sister. She also trusts the process.
Wikipedia pinpoints the start date of Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour as June 7th, 1988. Since then, with a brief pause due to health concerns in 1997, Dylan has toured internationally almost non-stop, intermittently breaking to release albums. He alienates and enchants his fans, which has always been part of the Dylan mystique, but no matter what, he keeps our attention. As the self-proclaimed poet laureate of rock and roll, he’s earned that much.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when it became imperative to keep track of every movement in professional basketball, but my best guess is that somewhere in the last decade or so, ESPN, FreeDarko, statistical analysis and all which those entities begat made the NBA tab of the Bottomline like reading a daily newspaper. In the year-round NBA, we hardly have a moment to breathe.
Yesterday, the NBA officially announced Wardell Stephen Curry II as the MVP, and rightfully so. With the possible exception of Russell Westbrook during the second half of the season, nobody was more consistently electrifying than Curry, whose barrages of three-pointers and Vine-worthy displays of ankle-breaking handles impelled the Warriors to a league-best 67 wins. Curry’s play leaves you gasping for air, wondering if the sun rises simply to shine on the scrawny kid from Charlotte and his band of audacious musketeers.
Instead, however, I want to talk about another product of North Carolina, an injured point guard who never so much inspires gasps as he does head-nodding. He is the smartest on-court player in the league, perhaps its best backcourt defender, as polarizing as he is mesmerizing. On one leg, he may have just ended the greatest sports dynasty of the last two decades (“may have,” only because nothing is certain in San Antonio’s Fountain of Youth, and that sentence could’ve been written anytime from 2006-2013, with any number of slayers replacing Paul). The time has come to lavish praise, begrudgingly if you must, on Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards in history.
The NBA announced its All-Star starters this week, with a certain pair of Spanish hermanos at the forefront. Interestingly but not surprisingly, Steph Curry beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the highest vote-getter, and the Eastern Conference has an entirely new backcourt for the first time since 2000. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, destroyer of efficiency ratings, has become Kobe Bryant, destroyer of his own rotator cuff, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury has the Blazers reeling.
I’ve avoided this for so long. I ignored it like a ne’er-do-well roommate, years behind on his rent but always at the forefront of craft IPA and porter trends that cost more than a cigarette addiction in New York City. Speaking of, the apple has truly gone rotten in Madison Square Garden, as your New York Knickerbockers have plummeted to a new low. “But the cap space!” you say. I know. I know. It’s always the cap space, until it’s not. Elsewhere, the best team in the Eastern Conference (which is sort of like being the best dissenter in a Soviet gulag, but still) is up for sale, and the Pistons bring new meaning to the phrase “addition by subtraction.”
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours. Josh Smith received a most pleasant Christmas gift in being cut by Detroit only to end up in Houston next to former AAU teammate Dwight Howard and the rest of the gunning Rockets. Skeptics attribute Smith’s exit to playing out of his comfort zone and generally treating the rim with disdain, to which he says, “Whatever.” Elsewhere, the NBA Christmas Day slate proved to be underwhelming, and some guy on Twitter drove 50 minutes to defend Russell Westbrook, or what’s left of Kobe’s honor, or something.
The Los Angeles Lakers were in trouble. Through the first ten games of this season, one of the league’s two most decorated teams in history was 1-10 and had become a punchline via the play of its fearless, sociopathic leader, Kobe Bryant. People were pointing fingers. Coach Byron Scott refused to acknowledge the league’s most efficient shot, the corner three, in any capacity, allowing Kobe and others to settle for long twos late in the shot clock. Kobe became festively jovial about his team’s historic incompetence. The Clippers officially became the team of Los Angeles. Carlos Boozer became an important cog in a professional basketball team, and it wasn’t the Philadelphia 76ers. The skies over Manhattan Beach, once a clear purple and gold, filled with dark clouds.
But then, a hero emerged. The perfect antidote to the Lakers’ struggles, it turns out, was swag, and only one man had the power to rescue Kobe Bryant from himself. That man is Nick Young, and this week’s 3-Pointer is dedicated (almost) entirely to him.