Last night, Kobe Bryant paid his final visit to the Bradley Center as the Los Angeles Lakers played the Milwaukee Bucks. I--like the vast majority of you, based on ratings--didn't watch a single minute of the game. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what all the hubbub over his "retirement tour" is all about.
Yes, Kobe is the third-leading scorer all-time in NBA history. But like Karl Malone who is number two on the list, to me Kobe just doesn't "feel like" one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Heck, I'd have a tough time putting him in the top five all-time Lakers. Is he really better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor? Add in other all-timers like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Bill Russell and it's hard to put Kobe in the top ten greatest NBA players.
Kobe is a product of a league that just was not very good for most of his career. His was the Post-Michael Jordan NBA that featured a whole lot of guys that were not particularly sound in the fundamentals--but could dunk and had shoe deals and great marketing behind them. And with the Association selling out the shoe companies and the hip hop record labels, pro basketball became more of an "entertainment product" and less of an actual sport.
Add to that Kobe giving himself a nickname: "The Black Mamba" and that ugly incident with the woman in Colorado (and Kobe's classless claim that his teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, "got away with the same stuff all the time") and you end up with the superstar that really nobody likes all that much. And yet, here we are "celebrating" his upcoming retirement with special ceremonies before games and giving gifts to a guy that could buy pretty much anything he wants already.
When people talk about the "legacy" that Kobe Bryant will leave in basketball, for me it will be the further ruination of college hoops. He and Kevin Garnett were among the first to completely forego college basketball and enter the pros from the high school. Those two are likely heading to the Hall of Fame (along with LeBron James) but for about a decade after they came out, you had a long line of guys that also tried to skip college who flamed out big time. Now we have the stupid "one and done" system where guys with pro futures attend class for a semester, play one season of college ball and then head to the draft.
So I'll applaud the career of Kobe Bryant, but don't ever expect me to wax nostalgic about his "glory days" like I do with Magic, Bird and Pistol Pete.