There's something special about watching Kobe Bryant play the game of basketball. Beyond the stats, the percentages, the usage rates, and the X's and O's is a player who simply dominates the hardwood. Life takes us, as humans, down interesting paths. Sometimes we reach the destination that we always envisioned, other times we could never anticipate where the river will take us.
Then there's Kobe. Maybe he was meant to be one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game, maybe he wasn't, but it's what he chose to do and with that indomitable will he forced the water current to take him there.
There will come a time when he isn't jab stepping, fading away, and picking the poor souls of defenders that are in front of him apart. The discussion is thrown around without any weight at this point as everybody awaits the man to step down from his pillar of brilliance. While he's watched a generation come to pass while the next was ushered in, he's continued on his path to be the best, defiant against all sensibility. His latest performance -- a 48-minute, 47-point marvel at the Rose Garden in Portland -- could stand as a singular example of just how great Kobe Bryant is. That goes without mentioning the eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and three steals.
It also stands as a subtle reminder that it could all come to an end sooner than any of us would like. If it were up to me, I'd buy another round every time Kobe tried to leave the bar, stalling the inevitable, but soaking in every last moment. Another one-dribble pull-up jumper. Another display of unparalleled footwork. Another day of Kobe Bryant.
It was more than the fact that Bryant reached a season-high in points against the Trail Blazers. It was the virtuosic nature of the way he plucked at his instrument. It was the bass groove he was in while the crowd's mix of cheers, boos, and MVP chants poured onto the stage that kept the rhythm of the song chugging along. It was the electric guitar solo that would put John Petrucci of Dream Theater to shame while he took over as the front man yet again. It was the drum patterns he laid down -- a perfect mix of sounds to accentuate the song the Lakers were playing. It was the vocals he sang into the microphone, letting his basketball prowess serve as the lyrics that put meaning to the performance behind him.
It will all go away, fading to silence someday. Kobe will leave the bar eventually, no longer interested in a free round of drinks, and all that will be left is choosing that same tune on the jukebox once he exits that door. Playing the song over, and over, and over while a Lakers game is playing across the many screens in the establishment. The game, muted, not quite matching up with the music blaring in our ears.
Yes, the Lakers will continue on once the bottle of vino drips its final drop down into the wine glasses we hold out, hoping it never comes to that. But it will, and it has to, and it's inevitable. For now, though, it's worth appreciating it for what it is: one of a kind. It isn't a perfect wine -- at times lacking the distinct flavor of defense to wash down the sweetness of the offensive brilliance -- but there will never be another like it. Appreciating it for what it is is far more exhilarating than critiquing it for what it isn't. Sometimes, you just need to enjoy the drink for the drink that it is.
With the Lakers' playoff hopes floundering Kobe Bryant stained the floors of the Rose Garden deep purple, intoxicating another opponent with vino and leaving them blacked out. The defiant Bryant continuing his climb up Mt. Everest with the entire Lakers team on his back. In his calculated mind, one slip of his footing could send the Lakers falling to the bottom as they miss the playoffs, so he leaves no chance for it to happen, playing nearly every minute left in the regular season before the Lakers can exhale. Then, it's time to prepare for the number one seed in the Western Conference should the Lakers make the playoffs.
There are three games left in the regular season, giving Bryant and the Lakers three more opportunities to prove they want it as a collective. There's no question that Bryant wants it. Every step of the way, right or wrong, Kobe has shown how badly he wants it. At times it's to a fault as that damn basketball won't cooperate and go through the hoop, and at other times it becomes a jaw-dropping experience as the years of work and dedication to his game shine through the youth of the player lined up in front of him.
The Lakers might need every bit of Kobe to just get into the playoffs, and that's a sacrifice he's willing to make. For the name on the front, which Bryant understands and has represented for 17 seasons. For the name on the back, the embroidered letters of BRYANT, that he has built into a legend that will echo forever. His legacy could live on its own if he tore the jersey off today and never put on his purple and gold uniform again, but his job is not done.
There's still wine left in that bottle, but there's no telling just how much. His coy answers and quotes as the year has progressed have made it clear that even he is unsure of what he has left to pour for the people. For the Lakers. For BRYANT. To sit and consider such a life-altering decision -- walking away from the world he has lived in since he picked up a basketball for the first time as a child and began his journey -- is something best left to consider when there isn't everything at stake for the Lakers this season, and perhaps at stake in one of his final seasons as a professional basketball player. As a Laker.
For now, all we can do is hope he keeps sticking around. Another round of vino spreading joy to those sitting at the bar appreciating what he's doing. While the jukebox will still have that track we'll likely burn to the ground, the music he's playing is best listened to at home in quiet with a high-quality set of headphones. Letting each sound reverberate in our eardrums and fill our heads with the memories. Letting each sound play with the clarity it was meant to be heard in.
The man whose turnaround jumpers and basketball arsenal never ceases to amaze keeps reminding us of the void he will leave when he fades away. Not to the sound of swishing nets, but the sound of a crowd saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant.
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