It was 1998: Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls played Stockton, Malone and the rest of the Utah Jazz in the finals. This was a time when being a fan of any other team besides the Bulls was a crime punishable by exile in Illinois.
That wasn't a problem for me. "Space Jam" had come out a couple years before, and it was my absolute obsession. So much so that for my fourth* birthday party (*maybe, I don't remember), the cake had Jordan and Bugs Bunny's faces printed on it. Naturally, as the birthday boy, I got to eat the largest chunk of Jordan's championship-caliber dome piece. It tasted like success and competitive spirit, but mostly cake, cause that's what it was.
Jordan "retired" after game six of the finals and that legendary Bulls team was swiftly dismantled, so I was all of a sudden out of a team to root for. Naturally, any true fan would stick with their team through better or worse, sickness and health, curse or no curse, etc. However, I was a child, so loyalty meant nothing to me.
Anyway, long story short, the Lakers signed the Big Aristotle himself, Shaq, in 1996. They also drafted high school phenom Kobe Bryant that same year. Kobe was on the cover of an N64 game I owned – fun game, but the players looked like stick figures that ran like they were constantly about to poop on the court – and Shaq starred in the overlooked gem in the mud "Kazaam" around the time he signed with the Lakers. Both of those were things that I loved back then, so it didn't take long for me to decide that the Los Angeles Lakers would be my new favorite team. Plus, they starting winning championships around the time I hopped on the wagon, so it was all cosmic.
Fast-forward to now: The Lakers (as of the time this post was written) are 11-48 for the season. We've got talented young players, but a coach who doesn't know what to do with him. The most useless dude playing the most useless position in the league right now, Roy Hibbert, is taking up space on the floor and cap space. Nick Young is STILL in the NBA and still in a Laker jersey, which flabbergasts and frustrates me to no abound.
And Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players to ever step on hardwood, is retiring at the end of the season.
I mean, I get it. He's pushing 40, and doesn't have the same venom running through his veins these days. His stats prove it (he's averaging 17 points a game on 35 percent shooting), so I'm not trying to make the argument that he should stay another year or anything. Quite the opposite, actually. It quickly became apparent during the beginning of the season that this was going to be one of those seasons where Kobe's going to take all the shots because no one else is worthy of doing so.
Normally, I'd be okay with that. That used to be primetime television during my formative years, because no matter how ridiculous of a shot it was, Kobe always found a way to make it count. But not anymore. Today, we're so past his prime, watching him shoot a lot doesn't have the same effect that it used to. Primarily because he's missing 65 percent of those shots, and if this were another NBA player of a similar age to Kobe, I guarantee he wouldn't be in the Association right now.
He'd probably be kicking it with Stephon Marbury in Beijing, which is a decent paycheck, but not the same level of competition. That's another story for another day.
The point here is that ultimately, as much as it hurts me to say this, Kobe needs to either speed this whole retirement thing up or I just need to stop following the Lakers until the season ends, because this is becoming unbearable.
The Lakers are bad this year. Like, REALLY bad. Washington Generals level wackness. Instead of putting all of their attention on improving the team, or at least making it easier to enjoy the games this season, they're giving Kobe a farewell tour until his last game.
Don't get it twisted, I'm not against giving Kobe his due. I mean, this is someone who took mediocre squads with Smush Parker at the helm to the playoffs TWICE. And I'm well aware that Smush, as bad as he was, wasn't the only reason those seasons were rough. Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, and Luke Walton were just as reprehensible. It's just that if you call yourself "Smush," you're basically are putting yourself on the front line to be hated on.
Hypothetical: Imagine you and your friends are hanging out, and someone spills soda on your parents' new carpet. Who's the first person you're going to look at? Smush. Why? Cause he actually introduces himself as "SMUSH." He went up to your parents and said to them, "Hi, I'm Smush," and expected to be taken seriously. That's the only argument anyone will ever need.
Anyway, Kobe has had a phenomenal career, and he deserves to bask in all of that at some point, but not right now. There's still a whole second half of the NBA season to play through, and while the Lakers are obviously not going to the playoffs, we should at least try to focus in finishing the season strong. If winning isn't in the cards, which happens, management at least needs to show that they're TRYING to do something.
But, because everyone's so wrapped up in Kobe-mania, that ain't happening, and that frustrates me. Not only because I hate to watch my team lose games that we probably should win, but also because Kobe does not deserve to go out this way.
If we're just going to pretend that Jordan's tenure with the Wizards never existed, which I'm okay with, he retired on the high note of winning his sixth NBA championship. David Robinson, the Admiral, ended his career with an NBA championship. Adam Morris-- ADAM MORRISON ENDED HIS CAREER WITH AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP, BUT KOBE'S GOTTA END HIS PLAYING BUSH LEAGUE BALL WITH THE HOMIES?
Seriously, Calvin Cambridge couldn't help this team get to the playoffs. Jesus Shuttlesworth would look like a false prophet trying to keep this squad near .500.
Lakers management has failed the Mamba so badly. Trading Andrew Bynum was the first straw, bringing in Dwight "Charmin" Howard was the second, and then hiring Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson was the one that broke the camel's back, legs, and humps. Everything revolving this team is so broken right now that Humpty Dumpty could take a look at one game and think that his life wasn't so bad.
Why would you bring in Lou Williams when you already have Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson? Why would you trade Jordan Hill, an energetic, skilled center (when healthy), for Roy Hibbert, the man with the skinniest legs of all time? WHY WOULD TAKE D'ANGELO RUSSELL OUT OF THE GAME BECAUSE HE WAS SCORING TOO MUCH?
Most importantly, why would you give Kobe all that money and power during his last contract negotiation when you knew that he was nowhere near the player he used to be? I know he's a little intimidating, but do people really expect me to believe that no one in management had the audacity to suggest that he take a smaller paycheck to ensure that he'll win games?
That he really just went up to the office and was just like, "Give me all this money so we can't sign anybody but Earl Clark and Chris Duhon"? That's an exaggeration, but that's basically what happened after he re-signed. You trying to say nobody suggested taking a cut to bring in some help? I'm sure that's what happened, but it's just unbelievable that the Lakers brass is that stupid and spineless.
They're just wasting money, and assets, and potential free agent signings. AND MY PATIENCE. They're also throwing away the final season of one of the greatest Laker's of all time.
It absolutely pains me that Kobe has to walk away from the game with the Lakers in so much disarray.
It almost makes me wish that he just waited until the season ended to say that he was retiring. That way, watching this whole experience unfold would be less detrimental to my health.
But he didn't, so every Laker game will be spent showering Kobe with goodbyes and reminiscing on the past instead of focusing on the present. A present in which the Lakers are 11-48, and not improving any time soon.
I love Kobe, but I love basketball more, and watching the Lakers play ball this year has made me hate the game for the time being. There's no fun in it, and it's not because they're losing. I can handle losing. It's because right now, they're not even trying to set the team up for success. This is not a rebuilding effort. This is a "let's wait until Kobe's done and then we can try do new stuff" effort.
So, instead of toughing it out until the end of the season, Kobe should just retire now. That way he'll get the final ovation he deserves, and the Lakers can start looking toward the future, which looks bright with the young guys they've got on the roster.
But, alas, that will not happen. So, here's to the rest of the Lakers' season. Hopefully they don't push me to break a television screen any time soon.