Opinion: Respect the “Black Mamba”

Ritchie Mulhall

Richard Mulhall

Kobe Bryant, arguably one of the greatest players in NBA history and the man many call this generation’s Michael Jordan, played his last game last Wednesday against the Utah Jazz.

In that last game of a long, memorable, illustrious career, Bryant went out on the highest of notes, scoring 60 points and leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 101-96 victory. Not everyone, however, was equally impressed by Bryant’s curtain call.

Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock, who makes regular appearances as a guest on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” ripped Bryant’s final NBA performance, calling Bryant “the most fraudulent superstar celebrity athlete we have ever seen.” Fifty shots for 60 points. That’s how Whitlock summed the future Hall-of-Famer up.

“His narcissism and selfishness destroyed a franchise,” Whitlock said a day after the performance. “The Lakers are a laughing stock, and just had the most embarrassing season we’ve pretty much ever seen an NBA team have.”

Whitlock isn’t completely wrong by any stretch of the imagination: The Lakers finished dead last in the Western Conference and posted the second worst record in the NBA with an abysmal record of 17-65. But is that really Bryant’s fault? He himself said at the beginning of the season that he was the 200th best player in the NBA.

“I freaking suck,” Bryant said.

Everyone knew (even before Bryant’s grand announcement) that this season would be Bryant’s last, his swan song. This season was all about finding out if younger talent was ready and prepared to step up and lead this team. Guys like Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell were expected to rise to the occasion and become the new faces of the franchise. Instead, distractions and Iggy Azalea interfered with the success of a basketball team.

Whitlock went on to conclude his tirade, accusing Bryant of spending his 20-year career attempting a really good Jordan impersonation. This is when I stopped listening.

To demean Bryant’s distinguished accomplishments isn’t fair to a man who played his entire career for the Lakers. Not many players in this day and age of the game are loyal enough to play for one team their entire career, but Bryant followed in the footsteps of former Yankee Derek Jeter’s commendable career and stuck with his team through thick and thin.

I know I’m not the only one who has lauded Bryant for his achievements. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Bryant “one of the greatest players in the history of our game.” The New York Times wrote that he has had “one of the most decorated careers in the history of the sport.” Both Sporting News and TNT named him their NBA player of the decade for the 2000s. In 2008 and again in 2016, ESPN ranked him the second greatest shooting guard of all-time, behind only Jordan.

Bryant’s stats and accolades alone back up this praise. He averaged 25 points per game over the span of 20 years, and with career averages of 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals, Bryant is recognized as one of the most versatile, all-around players in NBA history.

He was an 18-time All-Star (which ranks second behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s 19), a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, the NBA’s MVP in 2008, a four-time NBA All-Star MVP, an 11-time NBA First Team member, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member.

Bryant also helped lead the U.S. to two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. He became an international superstar and remains an icon in countries around the world. He is still idolized like a god in China and “sells merchandise by the bucketful” worldwide.

Bryant accomplished everything there was to accomplish in the NBA, and when he realized his prime had passed and his time was up, he chose to walk away from the game he loved with no regrets. He walked away on his own terms, scoring an amazing 60 points and leaving everything he had left on the hardwood.

The point is if Bryant wanted to go off and score 60 points on a 22-of-50 shooting effort in his last game ever, let him. I think he’s earned that right to do that. Many critics like Whitlock, who have condemned Bryant for being selfish with the basketball throughout his entire career, said Wednesday night summed up his career in a negative way. But I disagree.

I think Bryant’s 60 points and getting the W sums up his career in the perfect fashion. It was Bryant’s night, and he seized the moment. His last performance didn’t feed his egotism. It immortalized as one of the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and cemented his legacy as arguably the best player of my generation.

You have to respect the “Black Mamba.”

Richard Mulhall is a sports columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].