This appears on the NBA Philippines site.
Thoughts on Kobe Bryant’s 19th season
by rick olivares pic from shahan ahmed
When I hear the number “19” I think of the Paul Hardcastle dance song from the 1980’s that referred to the average age of the American combat soldier during the Vietnam War. Now I might have to add that Kobe Bryant’s 19th season in the NBA that could really hasten the end for what is a Hall-of-Fame career.
If you equate 19 to sports parlance especially in years played – now that is an awful lot of games and mileage. He’s had numerous injuries throughout his career that allowed him only to play in five complete seasons! FIVE. Yet think of his on-court accomplishments and how much more he could have achieved had he been in better health.
As of to date, he has missed 146 games (aside from those early DNPs by his coaches) to injury. And counting.
I know there’s this competitive fire that burns in Bryant and he wants to go out in a blaze of glory. Yet he should use this time off for lots of reflection. I think that he pushed himself for so long that in the past three years his body has given out.
When Larry Bird’s back gave him problems for two consecutive seasons 1990-92, he called it quits but not before he went out with an Olympic Gold Medal with the Dream at the Barcelona Olympics.
I am also reminded of the time when age and gravity also took its toll on Julius Erving as opposing players smelled blood and went after him – dunking on him while talking smack. This coalesced into that November 9, 1984 match-up between the Boston Celtics and Erving’s defending champion, Philadelphia 76ers. Erving was having a bad night being repeatedly torched by Bird on both sides of the court then it got chippy and physical. When a fight broke out, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley held Bird in an arm lock while Doc teed of on the Celtics’ star. Everyone was shocked to see Erving lose his cool and actually throw punches. This isn’t the shoving that characterizes “fighting” in the NBA post-Malice in the Palace but real haymakers were thrown.
I am also reminded about Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, who in his third coming with the Washington Wizards brought an inglorious end (am referring to the inability to tow the team to the playoffs and getting fired) to what should have been a storybook ending in Chicago. Tendonitis, his knee drained of fluids…
This season we saw Bryant jawing with former teammate Dwight Howard. I wrote something about that incident and opined that he should refrain from busting another’s chops and consider himself an elder statesman of the league (jeez we all got old). It sure bit the Black Mamba back as the sad fact was bared that the Lakers play much better when Bryant is off the floor.
With his season over after tearing a rotator cuff, Bryant is still in the news after it was finally revealed that he wanted to join Jordan in Washington after he hoped to escape Los Angeles over his feud with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. However, Jordan was gone from the American capital and his former feuding foes in Phil Jackson and O’Neal were gone from LA (the former at least temporarily).
It’s a tantalizing thought and filled with what ifs and what could have beens however, the reality is the end of the road is much closer than we all think.
Since the publication of Jordan’s book, For the Love of the Game, I had always wondered why he included Bryant in the book. Outside his Chicago teammate Scottie Pippen, Bryant was the only other player given a page. I guess back then, His Airness saw something special in the young player. Their friendship over the years has proven to be solid none more so when he passed Jordan in the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Maybe Bryant should talk to another sports icon who recently left – and on his own terms – Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. Jeet played 20 seasons in pinstripes. After the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, Jeter had one more statistically great year while the others saw him mostly injured and his game in decline. Yet he still managed to provide many great moments in his final years. You cannot say he was a detriment to the team. He was like a shining light on a team that saw a lot of injuries and was in decline. But he went out the way he should – with a game winning hit at Yankee Stadium and a single in his final baseball game at Fenway Park to the rare applause of Boston fans.
Bryant has done the same. As a fan, I’d love for him to come back at least one more season before hanging it up. It would be good for teams to give him a send-off as he will go down as one of the NBA’s all-time best. If you tell him to hang it up, he’d do the opposite and come back. It’s that stubbornness that also got them to where they are. I would maintain though that it shouldn’t be at the risk of his health.