Malabute: Last call on Vino
Miko Malabute | Tuesday, December 1, 2015
“My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
It really is tough to turn back, or even to maintain the status quo once that word is said: goodbye. Rather, one has to embrace the conclusion of the story and turn the page to the next chapter.
Kobe Bryant’s announcement Sunday night that he plans to retire after his 20th season marked the official confirmation of what everyone knew was inevitable and for the best, though many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA in general also dreaded it. On the one hand, Bryant’s retirement announcement marks an official conclusion of the Kobe Bryant Reclamation Project, where head coach Byron Scott seemingly believed that if he played Bryant enough minutes, his legendary shooting guard would rediscover his pre-injury form. This would allow the forgotten team of Los Angeles to fully accept the rebuild, and — in theory at least — relinquish the reigns of the franchise to up-and-comers D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. On the other hand, however, the Lakers and the league are forced to say goodbye to the player many consider the closest thing the league has had (or possibly ever will have) to Michael Jordan, and a legend in his own right.
In a peculiar analogy, Bryant is similar to that significant other who you know you need to break up with for each other’s mutual benefit. And yet, each of you finds a reason to stay together for just a little bit longer — it’s hard to let go after such a glorious past. The Lakers and Bryant would benefit from moving on from each other, and with Bryant’s looming retirement now official, there can be a full commitment to the rebuild, especially with massive amounts of salary cap room opening up with Bryant’s contract off of the books.
With how poorly Bryant has been playing to start the season, many have wondered why he is announcing his retirement now for the end of the season; he should simply retire today and walk out on a high note, while everyone still thinks of him fondly and before they are exposed to even more grimace-inducing air balls and bricks. Yet, there is something invaluable about having Bryant’s 20 years of experience on the court to close out the season.
For one, Bryant will get his farewell tour, something that has been generally accepted in the MLB for fading franchise icons, but not so much in the NBA (as a matter of fact, the lone player I can think of with a positive, well-publicized farewell tour in the NBA has been Michael Jordan himself). This is in spite of the fact that Bryant has admitted to feeling “uncomfortable” about such an unapologetic outpouring of love for the once-most-feared player in the league; this tour is less for him, and more for the fans and opposing players to say their last goodbyes and pay their final respects. For two, Bryant has also described the “beauty,” in a masochistic kind of way, in the struggle of finishing out the season — even if the legs are gone, the fire in the heart forever burns brightly. For three, Bryant’s influence on his young teammates is something that could last for the next decade and shape the impressionable youngsters’ careers.
But most importantly, the league will just need time to say goodbye to the sporting icon. While there will assuredly always be great players in the league, and there may even be someone who could go on and break Bryant’s 81-point record, there will simply never be another player like him. Even though he is only a shadow of the player he once was, his retirement announcement reminds us of his longevity and lasting endurance through the evolution of the game that occurred during his storied career.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.