Some would argue that the last two years have been the best of Kobe Bryant’s life. You see, a few years ago all the stars seemed aligned against Bryant. His image was in tatters after rape charges in 2004. It looked as if he were destined to a life as one of those tragic Shakespearian figures we sadly hear about in sports.
No championships have transpired since the nasty breakup more than a half decade ago. And I’m not talking about his wife either, because they’re still together. I’m talking about the one where Shaq talked his way out of Los Angeles, only to end up in that other warm destination called Miami.
Without the “Big Fella,” the Lakers were mired in mediocrity, while Shaq would go on to win another championship with the Heat and cement his legacy as one the greatest big men to ever play the game.
This is when life became rather interesting, as the questions began to flow. Will Bryant ever be able to win without Shaq? Is he capable of leading one of the most storied franchises in all of sports back to the promise land? Will he ever learn how to play team basketball? Is he a true champion? Eventually frustrations boiled over and Bryant demanded his way out of LA, only to be told he wasn’t going anywhere.
I once heard that “Luck is when God moves anonymously in your favor” – because what happened next was surely an act of divine intervention.
The evolution and rebirth of one of the game’s greatest players was about to happen. After the fiasco in Colorado, Bryant was no longer the young, arrogant 17-year-old kid out Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. The tantrums. Gone. The nasty attitudes. Gone. The number 8. Gone.
He would don a new number, 24, change sneaker companies, become a loving father and give himself a deadly nickname, “Black Mamba,” which is the most poisonous animal in the world.
In the midst of it all, Bryant crawled under a rock as a friend mine says you must do, when things are not quite going your way. Bryant would take on a “Ghost Dog” persona, while his image slowly began to change. He avoided public appearances and put all of his energy into winning basketball games.
The Bible says “Faith without works is dead.” Bryant eventually found redemption. Lamar Odom would evolve into Kobe’s Scottie Pippen, a different version of Batman’s Robin. Every great player needs a great wingman. Odom who had been criticized for most of his career had finally found a home and a purpose. He too had become accepted.
In 2007 Los Angeles stole Pau Gasol from Memphis. I said stole, because it certainly wasn’t a trade. Can you name one player from that trade? I thought so. Unless you want to talk about that former worthless number one pick, Kwame Brown. Let’s move on. That’s what I mean by divine intervention.
Bryant would go on to win the league’s MVP and the Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 2008, only to lose in six games to the Boston Celtics. The endorsers have returned and he and his family look happier than ever. Bryant has grown up.
So here we are. With LeBron James shockingly out of the picture the stars have seemed to realign in Bryant’s favor. Has God forgiven him? Or is this just a bad joke as the Lakers prepare to win their 15th title, Bryant’s fourth, against a young, hungry and dangerous Orlando Magic franchise, ready to slay a team many picked to win the NBA championship some nine months ago. Is Dwight Howard a heavenly joke for both James and Bryant? Needless to say, Bryant’s legacy is on the line.
If he is to be mentioned in the same breath as Wilt, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Russell and even Isiah Thomas – he has to win. If Bryant wins, makeover completed. Every now and then we have to reinvent ourselves, it’s a part life. As they say, “focus or fold” and “win or go home.”
Lakers in six.