When the Los Angeles Lakers rolled into Philadelphia on Tuesday night for a JV game with the winless 76ers, there were more people interested than one might expect given the teams' combined 2-32 record. Minor credit for this goes to the embarrassingly bad Lakers, an opponent that the equally atrocious Sixers might actually beat. But most of the attention was due to Kobe Bryant, the Laker legend and Philadelphia native who recently announced that this will be his last season in the NBA.
The Sixers feted Kobe before his final Philly game with a pre-game ceremony that included a tribute video and a framed replica of his high school jersey. But Kobe returned the favor in the worst possible way: with an atrocious shooting night that helped the Sixers clinch their first win of the season.
Kobe actually started the game by hitting three out of four from behind the three point line. That, along with his comical lack of self-awareness, made it seem wise to shoot 13 more threes. He missed all but one. All told, Kobe was 7 of 26 from the field, scoring only 20 points. That's higher than his seasonal average of 15.8 points per game, but it's still a terrible performance given the number of shots he took.
What a horror show. Kobe's game has devolved into coming off ball screens and chucking threes, hitting defenders with crossovers and chucking threes, and bringing the ball up court and chucking threes. His shot is as broken as the Liberty Bell. His inability to recognize that and stop shooting so damn much is infuriating. And the thought of him suiting up for 60 mores games is downright depressing.
There’s little reason to think Kobe can correct this slide, a fantasy he seems to be holding on to. His last healthy season, as a 34-year-old in 2012-2013, was also his last good one. In the two seasons prior to this one, he played only 41 games, none of them particularly good. But Lakers fans were still hoping that a healthy Kobe would be a useful one. Clearly that’s not the case, and no stat better illustrates that than his three-point attempt rate. It’s an astounding 43% this season, meaning he’s shooting from distance almost half the time. At his peak, Kobe was taking threes around 20% of the time. Before his injuries, that was up to 25%. But now his skills are so far gone that he can’t bother to do anything other than shoot the ball wherever he catches it.
That's why Kobe should just retire today. Forget the obnoxious farewell tour, the halfhearted ceremonies and the dismal performances that will inevitably follow. Just go now. Last night's game provided the homecoming. When the Lakers return to L.A. on December 15, Kobe can get an hour-long standing ovation in street clothes. That's better than ruining the night by trying to play.
If there's any argument for Kobe to keep going it's that his presence makes the Lakers worse, which increases the team's likelihood of landing a top three pick in next year's draft. But even that potential benefit cannot match the guaranteed downside, which includes the stunted development of the Laker's young core and growing animosity toward a guy who should be remembered as a remarkable player, albeit a pretty unpleasant person. This isn’t about going out on top; it’s about leaving the game before things get even worse.
You had a good run, Kobe. It's time to go away now.
Photos by Mitchell Leff / Getty Images