Game six Tuesday. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that if the Lakers go down, I’ll have to work out a long-term payment plan with my debt collector (aka Philip Kates).
This one’s on you, Twenty-Four. You have no excuses. Now is the time to show all your doubters that you’re as good as you think you are. And yeah, after four titles – one without the Big Man – there are still doubters.
This time they’re out for blood. They say your selfish. They say that 28 second-half points is exactly what the Celtics wanted. They say that you shoot yourself out, like a heavyweight boxer. You swing, you swing, you swing, while everybody looks on in awe and wonder.
Then you crap out in the late rounds.
They say you’re old. They say you’re the top player in the game, but couldn’t hold Mike’s jock on your best day. MJ made ballplayers out of Luc Longley and Bill Wennington. You have to put up with Andrew Bynum’s bum knee. Big deal, Kobe. Man up.
The East Coast Bias says there’s no “Kobe” in “team.” It says you hang your teammates and then hang them out to dry. The naysayers aren’t impressed by 7 of 9 in the third quarter, or 23 straight points. They say, “Two for six when it counts.” They write off Pau Gasol’s 5 for 12, and Derek Fisher’s 2 for 9, and Ron Artest’s penchant for killing a half-court set every four possessions.
Because nobody gives a damn about those guys. Nobody will remember Lamar Odom 30 years from now. You’re Kobe Freaking Bryant.
They make the 81-point game your albatross. They say, “Yeah, 81 points… Two assists.”
Phil Jackson won’t tell you as much, but he knows deep down you’re too hardheaded to master the triangle. You make shots with guys draped all over you only because you can’t get open in the first place. Mike Wilbon says 27 shots in game five is too many. He’s a Chicago guy. He scoffs at 38 points. He says you’ll never get 50 when it counts.
Because you can’t.
They say you beat a crappy Orlando team. They say you tried to be Superman’s Batman. They say you’d have seven titles right now if you cared just an ounce about anybody besides yourself. They still whisper about Colorado. They make fun of your fist pumps. They say you’re trying to be somebody your not. Stop trying to be Jordan… You’ll never be Jordan.
The tongue waggle. Of course.
The guys that know these things say that Michael willed his teams to victory. They say you spell “will” with an “M” and an “E.” They say you wouldn’t know “will” if it came up and introduced you to Magic Johnson. How many titles does Magic have, Kobe?
How many you got?
Doc Rivers mocks you. “It’s only two points each time he scores,” he says. “Not 10.” Doc’s beaten you before. His team has your number. This is the best rivalry in sports and you’re 0-fer. Larry Legend toasts his champagne to you Tuesday night, Kobe. On your home court. While Jerry West thinks about what could’ve been if you’d only known “The Secret.” Ask Bill Simmons what I mean. He’s a Celtic.
They say this is what a team looks like.
“Those are tough shots… He’s making tough shots,” Doc says, kind of unimpressed as he turns to Tom Thibodeau on the sidelines. Hey, speaking of Thibodeau, what’s LeBron up to these days? Just a couple short weeks till July 1 – before the King gets to do what you’ve wanted since the late ’80s: be a Bull.
Enjoy your final hours of relevance, Twenty-Four.
While you were jacking up jumpers with hands in your grill, five guys in clovers were turning your defense into a colander. You scored 23 straight points from 4:23 in the second to 2:16 in the third. And you know what? That’s exactly what they wanted. The Celtics. The critics. Everybody. Boston stretched the lead from one to 13 in that span. They scored on 12 of 13 possessions at one point.
So, of course, you ripped your teammates. You said they “belonged on milk cartons.” You said, “Just man up and play. What’s the big deal? If I have to say something to them, then we don’t deserve to be champions.” Of course you said that. “Them.” Typical Kobe.
You do realize that you turn 32 in 70 days, right? You understand that this is where it ends? That the right knee won’t hold up forever. And to add insult to real injury, the guy that one-upped you Sunday is a year older. “I wasn’t in a personal duel,” Pierce said. “I didn’t notice that we were going back-and-forth scoring at the time.”
Don’t buy that. He knew… Or then again, maybe he didn’t. Paul Pierce is a Celtic. Paul Pierce is about team.
You’re done. They say you’re done. They look at you and they think, “If only.” They say you’re a great talent, Kobe. But you’re not great. You’ll never be great the way Jordan was great. Or the way Russell was great.
That’s what they say. And this is what you say: “Listen, if you told me at the beginning of the year that we’ve got two games at home to win a championship, yeah, I’ll take that shit.”
That’s one hell of a challenge, Twenty Four. But you know as well as I do that two in a row changes everything – the perception, the legacy, the legend. Jack can die a happy man. And you can finally shut everyone up.
So they can damn you again next year.