Nineteen seasons. That is how long Kobe Bryant has been playing in the best basketball league in the world. In his storied career, Bryant has received all the accolades any player can receive. He has 5 world titles under his belt, selected 15 times to the All NBA Team, 11-time All-NBA Defensive Team, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, 2-time scoring champion, an Olympic gold medal and a Most Valuable Player award. He’s won them all.
Now past his prime, he will be 37 years old a few days from now on August 23. Due to his advancing age and injuries in the past two seasons, there has been talk that this season might be his last, his swan song if you will.
While still a formidable force, Bryant is no longer the dominant player he once was. There are still those who believe that he can still win another championship but that door has been closed for a long time. Bryant only played about 40 regular season games in the past two seasons due to multiple injuries. As a result, the Lakers failed to make the playoffs during the period. It is interesting to note that the perennially strong Lakers have only failed to make the playoffs 7 times since 1960. Last season, the Lakers finished 21-61, the worst record in franchise history.
Another factor is the quality of players surrounding Bryant. In his first three championships, he had Shaquille O’Neal including veterans Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, etc. His next championships won in 2009 and 2010, Bryant was surrounded by All-Stars including Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Since that time, it has been downhill for the Lakers as they have not been successful in rebuilding a championship contender.
While Bryant has been an integral part of the Lakers’ past success, he needs to let go so the team can transition for the future. In 2012, the Lakers acquired several players including All-Star center Dwight Howard but Howard left after one season. Since then, the Lakers have tried luring other superstars to no avail. The reason – Kobe Bryant’s presence and personality that has dominated Lakers basketball far too long.
In a world made smaller by social media and technology, the glitz and glamour of playing in Hollywood has lost its appeal. Players want to be part of a winning organization and the Lakers are no longer one. Kobe Bryant has been a stumbling block as the organization tries to rebuild. For one, no superstar likes to share the limelight, especially with an aging player. Secondly, Bryant’s ridiculous salary (he made $24 million last year) has hampered efforts to get marquee players.
The Lakers will start the season with several youngsters and a promising rookie that may be the future face of the franchise. A season that will be lost, once again, in drama and disappointment with Bryant at the center. In a league dominated by powerhouse teams that depend on all five players, the era of the superstar is over. Bryant still believes that his force of will and waning skills alone can still win games but even he needs bow before Father time.