Kobe Bryant has struggled in his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers, alternating rare flashes of the player he used to be with inefficient reminders that Father Time is undefeated. Despite these difficulties, Bryant has no shortage of admirers among fans of the NBA, and is on pace to have his name called for the Western Conference when the starting lineups are introduced for the 2016 All-Star game in Toronto.
There is a great deal or respect for Bryant around the league as well, with players from all over the league like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry all speaking at different points about their admiration for Bryant's career and effect on the legacy of the NBA.
For some younger players, like former Laker and current Atlanta Hawk Kent Bazemore, Bryant's longevity means that they grew up watching and idolizing him as well during their formative years. Bazemore took a break from his breakout season to speak with James Herbert of CBS Sports, and he thinks that for all of Kobe's issues this year, his "favorite player" still has one high scoring performance left in him
"I've told people he's going to have a 50-point game this year, said Bazemore. "People think I'm crazy, but he's going to have a 50-point game this year. Mark my words."
Bazemore holds that belief because of how much he respects Bryant, and he detailed why to Herbert:
"What drew me to Kobe is not the points he scored, it's just like the passion, the fire he plays with. There's only a few people, I think, in his world, that can like truly understand where he comes from when he plays the game. Like, how he wills himself to take over an entire game. It's so hard to do that in this league.
At the 2014 trade deadline, Golden State sent Bazemore to the Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Blake. He never got to share the court with Bryant, who was injured, but he got to call himself his teammate. When he talks about Bryant, he still sounds like a fan.
"With me playing, like playing these past few years and playing down the stretch and understanding time and score and doing all this stuff, for him to do the things he did at this level with teams knowing he's the guy, it's amazing. It's not only physically taxing, it's mental. His mental approach to the game, the way he prepares, it's unreal."
Bazemore's feelings are surely genuine, but it is hard to see Kobe reaching such lofty scoring heights this season. Bryant has not scored 50 points since 2009, when he dropped 61 on the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. It's possible, just unlikely.
Intersetingly, Bazemore is a free agent at seasons end, when the Lakers are projected to have a league-leading $65.8 million in cap space. If his strong play continues, the self-described Kobe fan could end up earning himself a hefty pay raise to replace Bryant in the Lakers' starting lineup.