Dulany: Don’t count out the Mamba
Josh Dulany | Monday, November 17, 2014
I’ll never forget watching Kobe Bryant pull off one of the greatest meaningless performances of all time. It was Game 5 of the 2010 NBA Finals in Boston. The Lakers were down 11 points, and suddenly Kobe couldn’t miss.
He nailed a jumper one-handed falling out of bounds, he got the roll on a long 3-pointer and he capped of a run of 17 points in less than six minutes with a 3-point shot from so far beyond the arc that Dwyane Wade was spewing reverent profanity from the crowd.
It was an amazing display of competitive willpower. There was only one problem — the Lakers were still down eight and would eventually lose the game by six.
Watching the beginning of this Lakers season, I can’t help but think about that game and how much this season is just like that — a waste of some of the most competitive nature ever seen in sports.
Certainly, Kobe is not at the peak of his powers like he was in 2010, though he is averaging 27 points per game to go with roughly five rebounds and four assists, all while coming back from a year of injuries. All Kobe’s been in the news for this season is his new record for all-time most missed field goals. Every night he’s gone out and desperately heaved up shot after shot, making about 38 percent of them and getting absolutely nowhere.
The Lakers are just bad. They are 1-9 with no sign of a reprieve in sight, and even Kobe is realizing there is nothing he can do. It’s tough to watch. Kobe may not be everyone’s favorite guy, but there has never been any doubting his competitive fire.
This is the man that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Wade deferred to in the 2008 Olympic gold medal game against Spain. This is the man who chased down 81 points. This is the man who drained two free throws in agonizing pain with a torn Achilles. This is the Black Mamba.
Kobe has largely been defined by his pursuit of Michael Jordan and six rings. No player since Jordan has looked more intense and more cold-blooded on a court than Kobe. Every triumph of Kobe’s career has gotten him closer, but every shortcoming is a reminder that he’s not quite like Mike. With every year, it seems less and less likely that Kobe will get a sixth ring and perhaps he is doomed to spend the rest of his career chasing the scoring record — he’s in fourth place, just 300 shy of Jordan and about 6,500 behind the record holder Kareem Abdul-Jabar. It would be a sad ending to a great career, a career mired in both greatness and controversy. The high standards he set for himself are now his own enemy.
Yet, we all should appreciate the endangered species that is the Black Mamba. The new generation of great player still has nothing like him. LeBron James is the consummate pro, but takes heat for not having a killer instinct. Anthony Davis is the laid back UniBrow, Kevin Durant is criticized for too often deferring to Russell Westbrook and Westbrook takes heat for not referring enough. Bryant isn’t Jordan. He may not even be the best player of this generation, but he’s shown us a competitive spirit and style of play we may never see again. And he’s running out of time.
In 2010, there were two more games for Kobe and the Lakers to make up for the waste of Game 5. Now, there’s no Game 6 and 7 coming. Kobe is in a place where all the competitiveness inside him is nowhere close to enough. More losing is coming, but sometimes the lowest of lows show Kobe at his greatest. The Mamba is in a corner. There’s not a way out, but it should still be a once-in-a-lifetime show.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.