Of all the iterations of Kobe Bryant- young, afroed Kobe; mid-career best-player-in-the-game Kobe; street clothes and walking boot Kobe - the world has never seen a better Kobe than the Kobe we have now: recalcitrant, crotchety, nearly-40-but-still-shooting Kobe. As of this season, the kid from Lower Merion High School has spent the majority of his life, 19 years, in the NBA. And here he is, a dozen or so games into the season, leading the league in scoring. We are all #blessed. Actually, we’re #doubleblessed because he keeps losing.
In late October, as Kobe was preparing to make his comeback from an awful 2013 that saw him tear an Achilles and break a knee, an LA Times columnist wrote a piece asking how much the 36-year-old had left in the tank. A month later, the question is comical. Kobe has come out this season moving and scoring and leading the Lakers like he did a decade ago. That remarkable ability to return from injury, while fighting off Father Time is part of what makes twilight Kobe the best Kobe. His spin moves and fadeaways are as pretty as ever, but when you consider the injuries, the tread on his tires and what typically happens to players on the wrong side of 35, they move from impressive to astonishing.
The haters, and there are plenty, will call Kobe an inefficient ball hog. And they’re not wrong. Kobe’s 290 shots so far this season lead the league by a mile. His 38% shooting percentage isn’t great and his 20.53 PER (player efficiency rating) ranks 41st in the league. Remember though, he’s surrounded by scrubs, a fate he helped seal for himself by signing an enormous contract that hamstrung the Lakers front office. Still, wouldn’t you rather have Kobe Bryant shooting than Wes Johnson? Kobe certainly would. As he recently put it, he’d rather not have to take all the shots, but he “can’t just sit back and watch crime happen.”
That brings us to the other part of twilight Kobe that’s impossible not to love: his mouth. Whether it’s calling out his own teammates for sucking, calling Dwight Howard soft or shitting on the game of golf to the New Yorker, Kobe is a rare truth speaker in an age of athlete insipidness. When LeBron announces his move back to the Cavs, he has Lee Jenkins write a press release about it in Sports Illustrated. It’s impossible to imagine Kobe making such a show of things. He’s the stoic grandfather of the league and his idea of an announcement is telling kids to stay the hell of his lawn.
One more point about why twilight Kobe is the best Kobe: Unlike mid-career Kobe, twilight Kobe has never been accused of rape. It’s not much of a win, but it’s a win.
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