Everyone realizes it’s one of those down eras for the Lakers that swing by more infrequently than Halley’s Comet. Great clubs need moments of rejuvenation every now and then, you know, where they can ice the knees and sip some Gatorade.
That time is now for LA’s purple and gold, which conversely has meant good fortune has fallen upon their red and blue brethren, the Clippers. Yes, Jack Nicholson knows this is as bad as it gets, while Billy Crystal no longer has to scare up support for his squad.
For all the criticism the Lakers are getting ahead of the new season, mostly because their roster doesn’t look good enough to compete with the Washington Generals, there’s something admirable about this mob. It’s a team of young and unaccomplished parts, spear-headed by two of the sport’s all-time greats, one of whom especially, refuses to surrender to the rust that’s setting into his joints.
Fine, Kobe Bryant isn’t the self-catapulting basketball ninja that he once was, but he’s still one of the best ever, and won’t go quietly into the night. We know this, that even on one ankle, with the soles of his sneakers wearing thin, blindfolded with his pants pulled down, Kobe is still a threat.
His grinding down reminds me of Magic at last call, when instead of bustling his way across court with the ball being bounced up at his ears, Magic turned his back to the basket like a kid trying to keep it from his bigger brother. In this position, which seemingly lulled defenses into a slumber, Magic continued to pull a rabbit from the hat. That’s just the way it is, you play to your strengths.
And so to Kobe, who has no sharper arrow in his quiver than his self-belief. If Michael Jordan invented the hyper intensity of take-no-prisoners basketball, Kobe refined it, pushing himself to succeed when everyone else said he should be inspecting retirement homes in Boca Raton. Well folks, all he’s ever cared about is the equipment in the fitness centre. Oh, and the tapioca pudding I'm told.
While he’s never been my favorite Laker, I appreciate Kobe’s extraordinary effort. How can you not? No matter how close the Lakers drop to the NBA floor this season, setting off more alarms than a sweaty Ethan Hunt, his hunger to compete has surely never been more evident. You only need to consider the current roster and the prospect of him having to carry it to see this.
Conversely, there’s a likeable vulnerability to Kobe now, which is seeping into the picture of his career like the decaying edges of an old photograph. Like that photo, Kobe’s no longer crisp, but rather imperfect, and this undoubtedly troubles him as it does all the great athletes. And yet, from the sideline, it’s hard to not admire his seemingly endless and tireless pursuit for victory, buoyed by a melancholic sense of invincibility, which still yet might produce something noteworthy.
Or maybe it won't. Listen, Magic remained my favorite player after he shaved the goatee, perhaps a sign that he was no longer young enough for fast styles, or breaks. Like Kobe now, he played on in the slower years, the old dog – the underdog, as it were – giving it one last heave before the era finally ended. That's all you can ask for.