While watching FOX's excellent resurrection of 24 (this is not a paid tie-in but it probably should be. Send me the money, FOX), I began to think about Kobe Bryant. I would often think of Kobe when watching 24, due to the fact that he is a known fan of the show, with some even theorizing that that is partially the inspiration for his number. I also have been known to compare Kobe to 24's hero, Jack Bauer. Both men are gruff personalities, who do not always play well with others unless it leads to the success of the mission at hand. In the first episode of 24: Live Another Day, Jack solemnly states "I don't have any friends", and there have been times when the same could probably be said by the Mamba. Additionally, both are the traditional view of a "tough guy" or "man's man", evidenced by the way that, throughout his career, Kobe has shrugged off injuries that would sideline another player for weeks, much like Bauer shrugs off bullets. Both have saved Los Angeles, Jack from a nuclear bomb and Kobe from the hated Boston Celtics (among others); and both have demonstrated a willingness to utilize torture in order to do so, Jack in a literal sense, Kobe with just his dribble. Above all else though, both men have a single-minded confidence that they are the best person to get the job at hand done. In the wake of Kobe's new contract piled on top of his inability to get on the court this year, I have begun to sadly feel as though now there is one key difference.
Throughout 24's run, Jack Bauer has demonstrated a borderline masochistic willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and if Kobe truly wants another championship, or championships, before his career is over, then he cannot say the same anymore. While professional sports are the only situation where someone gets criticized for getting the most money that they can get, and I truly do empathize with that, it does not make it any less true that Kobe could have taken less money if he truly wanted to maximize his chances at contention. While it is dumb that stars have to take FAR less than their real value in order to give themselves their best chance at winning a championship, it is the reality of today's NBA. Kobe did not do this, and that is well and truly his right, as the money the Lakers are paying him is a relative pittance compared to what he generates for them, so he "earns" every penny and then some. However, had he taken less, it would have given the Lakers much more flexibility in both this summer and next to reload with the type of championship quality pieces around him that he has started, and will likely continue, with even more enthusiasm, to agitate for. While the circumstances that Jack Bauer faces as a counter-terrorism agent are undoubtedly higher (and fictional), and therefore further lend themselves to one doing EVERYTHING possible to succeed in the face of them, it still does not make it any less of a reality that Kobe wants to have his cake and eat it too, believing that he is every bit good enough to will the Lakers to a championship next season, analysts, critics, and odds be damned.
The odds against Kobe in this situation are not insignificant, as low or lower than they were for Bauer in any situation in 24. This has been covered a great deal on this site, but it is exceedingly unlikely, all but impossible for the Lakers to move into title contention this season or next.. Even if they got the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, it is still far from a sure thing that a top four seed is in the cards. As we have seen in the playoffs thus far and in the last couple of weeks leading up to it, the Western Conference is GOOD. Short of LeBron James deciding to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat and take a pay-cut to play with an aging and returning from injury Kobe (and even then due to lack of pieces around them and the fact that it took LeBron and Dwyane Wade a year to learn to play off of each other well), it is difficult to see a scenario where the purple and gold are contenders next season. In taking this amount of money on his extension, Kobe drew a line in the sand between his short term goals and the franchise's. As much as the angle of "rewarding Kobe for his long time service drawing in other players" is trumped up, and is partially the motivation behind the extension, the more cynical but likely reality is that the Lakers did not see a window into contention over the next two seasons and want to use Kobe to sell tickets and merchandise until then, all while maintaining fan goodwill long-term by making sure a franchise legend retires in the only professional jersey he has ever known, with the added benefit being Kobe's big money deal expiring just in time to give them the cap space to sign 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant. Kobe, especially given his recent injuries, just does not have the luxury of waiting around two years for contention. From this perspective, his need to contend NOW makes sense, and so does that fact that he is pushing the franchise to do so. However, he could have made this goal a lot easier had he decided to take an extension in the vein of Tim Duncan's, with the additional financial flexibility provided making adding capable pieces and winning one or two more rings a lot easier. Instead, Bryant has made his quest for ring six and beyond much more like a story line from 24, with nearly impossible odds and countless pitfalls between himself and his ultimate goals.
In the premiere episode of 24: LAD, there is an excellent scene that shows the confidence that Jack Bauer possesses in his skills.
He takes a human shield and enters a room full of armed men, and in spite of his seemingly being both outnumbered and outmatched, matter-of-factly states, "You probably think I'm at a disadvantage. I promise you, I'm not", demonstrating a supreme belief in his talents, which of course, prove superior enough to win this particular standoff. As he returns from his lost season, I am sure Kobe believes the same of his own talents. I, like many Lakers fans I am sure, am not as certain that Kobe Bryant by his lonesome is enough to conquer any challenge, to defeat any odds or obstacle. Real life is always more complicated than television, and the same goes for your real life heroes. So while I am hoping that Kobe can prove me wrong, he may have missed his chance to save the day once again. In real life, even Jack Bauer needs friends. Whether or not the Lakers are able to add any significant ones while facing the constraints of Kobe's extension will determine whether or not the number 24's return will be as successful as the TV show 24's was.