There’s no doubt that Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in NBA history, maybe even the best to ever wear the Los Angeles Lakers uniform. But it’s hard to say that he made the game better or different, or had any kind of impact on the development and change of the NBA.
One of the most outrageous things said by Bryant is that he’s leaving the game in good hands. As if he was holding on to it until now, waiting for the right set of heirs to come along. It’s arguable whether he’s ever been the best player in the league (putting up a lot of points during the Shaq-less years in 2005 and 2006 doesn’t mean best, for those who get confused), but the time when it was even an argument is barely remembered by anyone.
Bryant was the consummate professional. A killer on the court and cruel, relentless, demanding of his teammates as much as he was of himself. It earned him a lot of fans and haters over the years. He won five championships with the Lakers, as he approaches the conclusion of his 20th season on the team. Best Laker of all time? Personally, I prefer putting Magic Johnson on that pedestal. He may have played just 12 and some seasons, but in that time he also won five championships, three MVP awards and made it to the NBA Finals nine times. The league was different, but Johnson had a much bigger impact on the NBA than Bryant did.
And you can say the same for LeBron James. There’s always the argument about Bryant and James, with LeBron fans throwing stats and ability, while Bryant fans reduced to the number of rings on his hand, as if that’s the only way to measure a player’s worth. But James changed the NBA both on and off the court. Bryant? He set a standard of excellence, but he didn’t create some sort of trend or forced teams to draft and sign players in order to compete with him. There’s no point of even bringing up Michael Jordan into this discussion. It wouldn’t be fair to Bryant.
But the good news for both the NBA and especially the Lakers is that Bryant playing in the All-Star game puts another mark next to a “last” or “final” milestone in his retirement tour. The end is only two months away, which will probably include a lot of losing, tribute videos and some appreciation from fans who never liked Bryant, but knew how good he is.
The NBA isn’t going to be different. That’s the thing. Bryant retiring doesn’t change anything. He hasn’t been relevant in terms of actual basketball and influence for quite some time. Scoring a lot of points on bad or mediocre teams don’t make you among the best in the league. Like Kevin Love in Minnesota, it’s simply someone exploiting a vacuum.
The Lakers moving on is a different matter. Bryant has been holding them back for a very long time, but even with him gone, a lot of questions remain. Maybe the biggest one of all is when do they get rid of Byron Scott, and hire someone who actually knows a thing or two not just about developing young players, but coaching basketball the right way?