From The Highest Mountain
USA Today Sports
Words are part of a reassuring platform from which we perch ourselves, wanting to reach for them whenever we please. When something, anything, goes awry, talking about it, and making excuses, helps cope with the reality of most situations. The Kobe Bryant saga is nearing an end and it’s becoming more and more apparent to fans – even the most die-hard, that Father Time will prevail. Not even the most reassuring words can save us now – hyperbole be damned.
Deep down, in what we think are the darker depths of our fanatic minds, we understand that everyone will retire. It’s the way we choose to see our legends go away that we collectively decide to forget. I wasn’t there for Larry Bird, and barely coming to my senses for Michael Jordan’s final stands (and isn’t the plural there depressing enough?) and much of the same is happening to the great, caricatured Kobe Bryant.
In his return to the Lakers lineup, rushed or not, the fans built his already Greek God-esque reputation into something more, even with the jokes of Kobe dropping 81 points (again) on the Toronto Raptors. It wasn’t to be taken literally but the notion that it even existed and crossed our literary minds gave credence to the infactual lense with which we view our stars. Kobe wanted it this way, and we fed him like the King he is, was, and always will be.
We dispelled the lack of explosiveness, extra weight, and overall difference in level of gameplay to Kobe’s newfound grasping of the game – like a baby learning to walk for the first time, because the end result of sprinting would ostensibly remain the same. And if his knee didn’t move the same way it’s moved million times before, these excuses and words would have kept surfacing, trying hastily to stretch the band-aid over the ever-widening scar. But everything would be OK, this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about.
And Kobe will return. That sneer will resurface, the jutted bottom teeth wll remain exposed, the haunting glimpses of Michael Jordan’s fist pump will mock us, and the cold-hearted fadeway J will pierce the walls of opposing teams the same. He’ll get the same treatment as before – Darth Vader music will soak up Staples Center; we’ll make excuses for his 4-16 shooting nights; and we’ll put on a brave face despite knowing the end of a legend is coming.
Every fanbase is different. But the same common denominator remains: we’re all delusional. Placing a guy coming off an Achilles tear as the face of the franchise and re-upping that portrait to a $50 million dollar contract made sense in Los Angeles. Because the fans made it that way. There’s no Kobe without the Lakers, and none of the contemporary Lakers without Kobe. That’s how we’re told to feel and the reactive differences are one and the same. Larry Bird was essentially trying to function without a back – however that is possible – and still evoked legendary emotions through mediocre performances. Michael Jordan gained weight – and still the attention of the All-Star Game remained solely on him.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are struggling to even suit up in the final stanzas of their glorified careers. We will never talk about the time they lost in the second round to the Indiana Pacers ten years from now reminiscing about the times the Big Three formed in Boston to take down the mighty Lakers. Hell, even LeBron James will grow old someday. And those superhuman blocks, dunks and quick-twitch reactions will slow, but we won’t admit it to ourselves. Perceptions, like expectations, gauge how players, especially all-time greats are viewed. Kobe Bryant has built himself into something he isn’t, and never was. But we were always OK with it. Now with the suit of armor cascading down, we’re left to face the reality that no one person is immortal, even if we know the legacy he’s built will never die.
Reality will win, Father Time will prevail, but the scope with which we view these phases of their careers remain skewed towards what we want, and not what is in front of our eyes.