In a brand new, overdue Chalk Talk, we examine the last week of Kobe Bryant’s career; North Korea’s photoshopping prowess and Golden State’s record-breaking season.
By Steven Nichols
Believe it or not, had it gone the way I had hoped after Jordan’s retirement in 1999, the crown would’ve went to Vince Carter.
Talk about Vinsanity…
There was a good span — precisely 1997 to 2004 — where Kobe was a punk to me. A chump. A cocky bastard. A copycat. Every time Kobe flashed on the screen with talk of him being better than MJ it was like I was suddenly back in 1995 watching Nick Anderson steal the ball from Jordan. It made me hate Kobe. And the Lakers. To think, who was this teenager to take the torch from MJ? Who was he to take down MJ as the greatest player of all-time while MJ wasn’t finished cementing his legacy? Were we going to really disrespect and forget about Jordan that quickly?
Kobe hadn’t won six titles, two 3-peats or five MVPs. He never jumped from the free throw line nor starred in his own animated film (gotta love Space Jam). He hadn’t scored 30 points per game, 63 points in a playoff game or averaged 41 points in an NBA Finals series. He didn’t have countless dunks and an array of circus-like moves. He didn’t have the memorable game-winners. Kobe had all the potential — potential being the key word — but at 18 and ring-less, KB was a just another young clown that needed to eat a piece of humble pie. Simply put, Kobe was absolutely ludicrous, ridiculous and needed to go away.
The talk wasn’t just bullshit, it was sacrilege in my basketball bible. Nobody… and nobody could share the same basketball stratosphere with the man who defied gravity.
Funny how 20 years later I’m not even willing to hesitate that Kobe’s almost as good as Michael if not as good.
I remember when I knew Carter didn’t have it in him. It was Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia. All Carter had to do was sink that left wing jumper at the buzzer to send the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, Vinsanity hit the heal of the rim, Allen Iverson and the Sixers advanced and Carter was never the same.
It was one shot, right? The upstart Raptors had a lot for the future with Carter, right? Wrong. Carter never won a ring nor came close. He had a few good seasons, but his dunk contest win will always define him. Kobe went on to beat Philly for his second-straight title that same year en route to his only three-peat — a feat he shares in common with MJ that no player besides Shaq in the last 20 years can claim. Carter may have been a North Carolina alum; he rivals Jordan as the best dunker of all-time. He wasn’t arrogant or aggressive. Carter was someone you could get behind and cheer for. But more importantly, he wasn’t Kobe at the time.
And that’s the thing. VC wasn’t Kobe. He could never be as good as Kobe. For whatever Carter could do Bryant was 10 times better. Kobe had the killer instinct. He was mentally stronger. Willing to win. More clutch. A better winner.
By 2004 it occurred to me: why waste my time waiting for Carter to rise when Kobe was at the top of the mountain?
Kobe was clearly 1A to MJ. Air Jordan beta. Kobe was the guy. And I never wanted to admit it deep down inside my basketball heart. So finally, I did. Kobe became my guy.
In an era where the punks seemingly got punkier and the friends wanted to team up with friends to win championships rather than beat each other, Kobe turned away from his smugish-thugish entrance and became the last good thing between Michael and basketball’s death — a passing on April 13, 2016 that will happen whether you like it or not. He was the last reminder of what ’90s basketball was all about — class, heart and will to win no matter what Kobe’s fall backs might say.
Fortunately, I jumped on the bandwagon before it was too late.
I guess as Kobe grew up and settled into his own right, he grew on me. He matured into a rare breed that was far more intelligent and savvy than I thought he’d be. He didn’t snap when the media smothered him. In fact, he embraced the questions and handled everything with class. It was like new school blended old school and I was watching ’90s basketball all over again. As I got older and started to see what the game of basketball was turning into and what it meant to Kobe, it became much more clear that the 2000 era needed a Michael Jordan and Kobe became my only hope and lifeline.
Father Time wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” Look at Kevin Garnett. Tracy McGrady couldn’t over come it. Shaq and Steve Nash eventually had to retire. Tim Duncan, arguably the second best player of the last 20 years to Kobe, will succumb to it. One wonders if the achilles hadn’t popped on Kobe, he might still be at the top of his game, shooting for his sixth ring next season. There’s no question that injury really hampered Kobe’s body in a way that took Kobe’s best with him.
But in reality is he’s down to one last game — against Utah of all teams. Wouldn’t it only be appropriate that Kobe, who at times I complained wasn’t original because he only would copy Mike, hit the game-winner Wednesday night at Staples Center with 5.2 seconds left… right arm reaching into the cookie jar en perfect vogue… just like MJ against Utah?
Sometimes I wondered if MJ was literally living vicariously through Kobe in some type of weird deal he made with the basketball gods. Who knows? Maybe Kobe will pull a Mike in a year or two, comeback and win one more because of some sort of scientific breakthrough that regenerates his knees back to his 28-year-old self. But if science could get Kobe back on the court… well then I would re-create the 1996 Bulls to show this year’s Warriors what’s truly up.
But up is the only direction Kobe can look to, now. Staples Center Wednesday turns into his own Patrick Swayze Ghost-like moment, as the fat lady sings and the coronation begins. But at least he’s going to the side where all the greats before him reside. He’s joining Michael, Magic, Larry, Russell, Kareem, Wilt, Oscar — all guys he’d rather be next to than what’s currently assembled in the NBA.
His jersey will be hung no longer in the Lakers dressing room but in the rafters at Staples. Whether he goes in as No.8 or No. 24, he goes down as the greatest Laker, ever. In my book he surpasses Magic and even Magic admits it. If Kobe’s the greatest Laker and the closest to MJ, by default how can he not be the second greatest player of all-time?
There’s plenty of memories to choose from his career — 81 points, 5 titles, the gold medals, the improbable shots and countless game-winners. When the “friendship era” showed you could change teams like changing socks, Kobe made those accomplishments in one jersey and led L.A. to 5 championships in 7 Finals appearances. Besides Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowtizki and Dwyane Wade, who can lay claim to that same dedication to one city?
And so what if Kobe ended up copying all of Michael’s moves? It’s one thing to copy MJ’s game and be a terrible counterfeiter. It’s another thing when you almost become a carbon copy. It was like Kobe was trying to do MJ but do it better and you know what — he almost did.
Like Mike, Kobe wanted to rip your heart out. Like Mike, Kobe always held himself to a higher excellence — the standard wasn’t good enough and losing wasn’t an option. If you were going up to the ninth floor, Kobe was going to 12. I thought you’d never find another player who would pride himself on both sides of the basketball. The fadeaway, the defense, the work ethic, the assassin-like will… it was a demonstrative approach to basketball that I thought only Jordan could bring. And sadly, you’ll never see it, again.
I’ll let you in on a little secret — back in 1999 I had a pair of the Kobe Bryant’s Adidas Crazy 2s. Maybe I actually secretly loved Kobe way back when and I just didn’t know it. Maybe I should learn a lesson and look at Andrew Wiggins or Kawhi Leonard and give them a shot instead of hating on them. I actually don’t hate either player, the idea here is to not wait till they get great to give them a chance.
But I just can’t. I said it 20 years ago and I’ll say it again: it’s safe to say we’ll never have a player like Jordan ever again. And this time I mean it.
Although… when you see something like this, it makes you wonder… (hello, Crystal Marie Denha).
Thank you, Mamba, for keeping basketball alive. 24/8.
North of the Border
You know who’s a big Laker fan? The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. That’s pretty cool until you hear he wants to blow up the United States to shreds, let alone what he wants to do South Korea in this video below.
OK, this is just messed up. But I did like the music. Has like a cross between Starsky and Hutch and an old driver’s ed simulator from the ’70s. I actually thought this was a promo for a new video game coming out.
Golden State of Mind
Are you the biggest Memphis Grizzlies fan heading into Wednesday’s game at Oracle Arena?
I sure am.
While records are meant to be broken — hasn’t the way Golden State acted on this run turned you completely off? Here, Steph Curry and the Warriors were the feel good story of last season. They beat LeBron — that was good enough.
But now it seems Curry’s became really cocky and it doesn’t help Draymond Green became a major gum-flapper. I guess that comes with the territory of winning and while they do play a beautiful brand of basketball, anybody from Chicago who remembers that 72-win season can clearly agree that the Bulls record must be preserved and the only way is to see Memphis win Wednesday and the Spurs knock off Golden State in the playoffs.
Why? Because 72-10 don’t mean a thing without the ring.
Cubs improve to 6-1