One of the underlying stories of the chaotic 2011-12 NBA season was the following: “What would the Los Angeles Lakers look like with a new regime change, with new role players and an aging Kobe Bean Bryant?”
At the onset, there was an immediate shift in casual fandom, as the Lob City era officially became a movement by the arena-sharing Clippers and the Lakers now had competition within their own area code. Things didn’t seem optimistic at first for Laker Nation, and as the “leader” of the troops went down with an apparently serious injury to his shooting wrist, the Macaulay Culkin face was in full effect for the folks wearing Forum Blue and Gold.
Then Kobe Bryant went into the time machine.
What’s transpired over the last week or so has been something out of a classic replay of games on NBA TV or ESPN Classic, as if Kobe went and found his old bold block font No. 8, went an found an old afro pick, started talking to cute R&B singers and put on his Adidas Crazy Eight’s to reminisce.
The old Kobe we’ve all come to know and, in some ways, love, is back. The Gunner Kobe who wears blinders for 40 minutes a game and goes out and gets his shot with no regard for human life. Pass the ball to a posting up Andrew Bynum down in the paint? Naw, I’m going to take this baseline fade. Kick it Pau Gasol at the elbow? Naw, I’m going to get to the rim. Kick it to Derek Fisher for the corner three? Nah, I’ll take this three at the top of the key instead.
Over the last week, Kobe Bryant is averaging 36.6 points/game in his last five, in which the Lakers are 4-1. Maybe the belief that Michael Jordan and Kobe have had about the triangle has a bit of merit, that it limits the freedom of a singular superstar like a Kobe or MJ. Of course, the triangle was never about a singular player, but the symmetry and balance that helped the entire offense. It won 11 championships so….it’s not a bad offense.
Yet, this Kobe seems to have the freedom to do things he used to do from 1996-99, when an inept Del Harris would like Kobe grow on the fly; you know, jack up untimely jumpers in critical situations and be a “Jack’em Joe” all-star. Now at age 33, Bean has shown that his offensive arsenal is vast and is poised to use his repertoire of skills at a moment’s notice. As someone who loathes Kobe, even I can appreciate what I’m witnessing.
It’ll be interesting to see if Kobe can keep it up. That wrist doesn’t seem to be healing any faster as pain-killing injections are now part of the pre-game warmup routine and that German-engineered knee could be built like a 7 Series Beamer or an old refurbished Beetle that’s been rusting in a junkyard. No one really knows.
Lets enjoy it for what it is, because it will always be funny to see Kobe look off an open Luke Walton in the corner and go 2-on-1 and shoot the J.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”