I’ve never liked Kobe Bryant, not one bit. And still don’t.
Will I miss him? Well…maybe a little bit. He’s been the player I love to hate for 20 years now, and for most of those years he tortured Warriors fans. I’ll never forget one day in the late 90s when the Lakers spotted the (in them days) normally hapless W’s 25 points. Several of us gathered in front of the TV in anticipation of a rare victory over the hated purple and gold. Instead, the lead slowly slipped away, and we started to get that familiar sinking feeling. The night ended with Kobe hitting a buzzer-beater to win the game and me in the fetal position on my friend Willem’s couch.
But times have changed. Last week, we got to see the Warriors run their record to 16-0 against a remarkably awful Lakers team while Kobe shot 1-for-14 from the field. It was both thoroughly delightful and kind of sad. Kobe is 37 now and no longer has the wherewithal to torture us, no matter how much he might like to. This week he officially announced, to the surprise of none and the relief of many, that he will be retiring at the end of this season.
But he apparently intends to play out the string for 2015-16, despite the fact that – according to ESPN – “His field goal percentage and 3-point percentage both rank last in the NBA among qualified players.” Lakers coach Byron Scott says that Kobe will continue to start, that he’s “earned that right,” and thus will continue to drag his team down with his selfish and inefficient play. This may be the Lakers’ subtle way of tanking the season, putting them in position for another high draft pick next year.
The mantle of Warriors Public Enemy #1 has already been taken up by Blake Griffin, who, let’s face it, is no Kobe. Though a gifted player, Griffin is not quite the incandescent talent that Kobe was at his peak. He is also slightly less hateable – a whiny crybaby punk, sure, but not a rapist (alleged).
So there was something bittersweet in watching the Black Mamba be turned helplessly in circles by the swarming Warriors, like an old lion being toyed with as a prelude to being ripped apart. Kobe set a gold standard for hateability that will never be matched, and that’s worth taking a moment to appreciate, before we get back to talking about the Dubs. Who are – as of today – 19-0. More on that later.