It’s always sad when good things come to an end. When you came to Washington on December 14th, 2012 I was in the building, decked out in my finest purple and gold attire. Back then I was totally delusional, even as you took 29 shots while only making 9 of them. At that point you were the league’s leading scorer, and Dwight Howard was still a Laker. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were Lakers. I thought maybe this was it. There was some semblance of hope that I’d see you riding off into the sunset, with maybe one more NBA title to add to your collection of five. You’ve had some lucky breaks Kobe, and the summer of 2012 was an exciting one.
That was until that dream ended abruptly when you tore your achilles in game 80 of that season. A season in which you made the playoffs, but were ultimately swept by the eventual Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs. The dream was then shattered when Dwight Howard decided to skip town and join the Houston Rockets that following off season, which coincidently was my first summer living in Los Angeles. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
You came back though Kobe. Just like I knew you would. On December 8th, 2013, almost a year after I’d seen you play in person for the first time in Washington you played in your first game since tearing your achilles. Your stat line in that loss to the Raptors: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and....8 turnovers. But, that was ok. It was your first game back after a brutal injury. It was time to shake off the cobwebs and get back to business, because you needed that 6th title to cement your legacy, and match MJ. Unfortunately Kobe, the only 6 you managed to muster up that season was 6 games played after injuring your knee in a tilt vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. Your season was over before it even started, and once again Lakers Nation was without their great superstar.
Then there was 2014. We lost Pau to Chicago in the offseason. That was alright though, because we were so bad the previous season that we ended up with a top ten pick that turned into Julius Randle. Not much of a consolation, but it’s a start in rebuilding the franchise. Well, that was until he broke his right leg in the first game...minutes into his NBA career….and never played another minute that season. You really can’t make this stuff up huh?
There was some silver lining though, Kobe. You did manage to score your 20th career triple double against none other than the Toronto Raptors. Your line that night: 31 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. There must be something in the Toronto air that gets you going. Remember when you torched them for 81 points that one time? That was awesome.
Now don’t get me wrong Kobe, I didn’t think there was going to be some type of renaissance here. This was your 19th season after all. You had already logged close to 50,000 miles on that 36 year old frame of yours, and as Charles Barkley often says, “Father Time is Undefeated.” But Kobe you know what? Let Barkley talk his talk. Let him call you a sirloin and a petite filet. Barkley can’t take away the titles, the Finals MVP’s, and the first team selections. Nobody can. You passed Michael Jeffrey Jordan to become the NBA’s third all time leading scorer. Your legend is undisputed, despite what the pundits say.
The real tragedy though is that the 2014-15 season was the third time in a row that your season was cut short due to injury; this time courtesy of a torn rotator cuff. I didn’t know how to feel. Sad? Angry? Happy? After all, with the team constructed the way it was we could waltz our way right into a potential lottery pick. Now I’m not one to encourage tanking by any stretch (here’s looking at you Ben Simmons) but fast forward six months later, and guess what? Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is now draped in purple and gold. You were set to come back in a few months, along with our previous number one pick Julius Randle, who we got to see in extremely limited action. Sure we missed out on top free agents, but we got the 6 Man Lou Will, and Jordan Clarkson made a leap late last season. Maybe they can take some of the scoring pressure off of you. I had high hopes for the 2015-16 season!
All of those hopes were for naught, however. This season you’re shooting 30% from the field and 20% from three, Kobe. Both totals are career worsts. The team, led by you for better or for worse is in shambles. After weeks of watching you take one struggle three after another I’ve had enough. You’ve been my hero for twenty years, but now I realize stubbornly that all good things must come to end. This is a lesson I’ve learned quite a bit over the past few years, just as you have Kobe. I’ve learned the value of acceptance just as you did a few days ago when you announced that you were retiring after playing this, your 20th season in the league.
Tonight I’m sitting on my couch watching you take on the Wizards in Washington. The bandwagon is awfully lonely these days. Pipe dreams of you hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy and hanging your sixth championship banner in Staples Center are long gone from my mind. But, just a second ago you made your fourth three of the game in front of a sell out crowd to put the Lakers up two in a surprisingly close game. Surprising because the Lakers have notched only one win on the season, and the Wiz kids are coming off an impressive 12 point win against King James in Cleveland. There are an overwhelming amount of fans in the stands cheering your name and shouting for joy as you just scored 5 points in 28 seconds in true Kobe fashion. The score is now tied 101-101, and you just knocked down another mid-range jumper to take a two point lead with 30 seconds left in the game. The Dagger.
For all intents and purposes that shot won this game for you and your Lakers tonight. It was awesome to see vintage Vino again. But the fact of the matter is, I’m not surprised that you scored 31 tonight. In fact, when I saw you play at Verizon Center in 2012 it was under similar circumstances: a losing streak (albeit the current is way longer and much more horrendous), less than stellar play on your part from the field, and a clutch play from you to cement a victory. And just like when I saw you the first and probably last time Kobe, I wasn’t surprised that you knocked down big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter to lead your team to victory. I’ve been watching the same thing play out over and over since I was 10 years old, like so many of your fans. You are clutch. You are a champion. You are showing the world why you are one of the greatest ever, if only for one more night. Oh, and yes I said ever, Kobe. I don’t think that’s up for debate at this point.
Lonely Lakers Fan
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