Whatever Kobe Bryant Decides to do Does Not Matter, Except it Does

Will or won’t Kobe Bryant decide to retire at the end of the 2015-2016 NBA season? That seems to be the question on a lot of people’s minds.

Whether they are lovers of Jelly Bean Jr., people who prefer him to disappear like a fart in the wind, or general salary-cap heathens, I understand what the fuss is all about — except I don’t.

Whatever we think Kobe Bryant is now — great, good, an iffy volume-shooter, well beyond his prime, or other migraine-inducing hot takes — he will go down as one of the best players to ever play professional hoops. Herein is the problem: Very few will be able to appreciate the last throes of Bryant’s (at least in his own mind) Herculean effort to go back to the NBA Finals, and win that sixth title to match Michael Jordan — who he has clearly emulated to the point of nausea for most of his NBA career.

It is sad like that sometimes. We all tend not to appreciate the greatness we have until it is gone. We spent years and years complaining about Allen Iverson’s efficiency, but now that we have had time to digest how revolutionary — both good and bad — a sports personality he was, as well as how dynamic a player he was on the court, we yearn for the days of the undersized Philly star hurling himself around with no regard for his body or anyone else’s.

Really, it would be great if we could simply enjoy the greatness found in the end of any superstar’s specific run. Instead, very consciously, we pick apart everything about their game, their legacy, and focus on things that are far removed from the simple process of enjoying the pure unadulterated brilliance that’s about to leave us. In the process, we forget why we were so interested in them in the first place, many years ago.

Circling back, we have Kobe Bryant, who is less a Michael Jordan clone now and more a verbal honesty machine, who is — both good and bad — telling us every thought that scatters through his cranium without thinking how it may alter some folks’ perceptions of him — none of which should matter to him, anyway.

I do get it from a fan’s point of view, at least a little bit. Some are so connected to Kobe, for whatever reason(s) which they feel validate their opinions above all others, that they don’t want to let go of the idea of Kobe Bryant the super-duper-star… a thing he sadly no longer is. Then there are those who are quick to diminish all things legacy-related and are thrilled to see the lesser version of The Bean enduring an injury-riddled twilight to his career — even somehow, magically even, using it as evidence that it proves he was not that good all along.

Finally, there are the realists. These people acknowledge Kobe’s career for what it was, but also for what it currently is: the career of a player who can probably retire on his own terms because he is such an embodiment of the Lakers — at least from a fan’s POV — that it is accepted the L.A. front office will do whatever Bryant wants, even to the detriment of the franchise in the long run.

I get all of these perspectives, yet I tend to sigh whenever the Kobe Bryant hot-takes, suggestions, and legacy-defining articles and tweets are plopped onto the web one article or social media posting at a time. That’s mostly because nearly all of those “thought-filled” points come with an agenda. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes there simply for you to click on the link. Nevertheless, they are there, and there… and somewhere to your left.

If Kobe decides to retire at the end of the season, there will be immediate repercussions for the Lakers. They instantly lose their only proven star player, crowd pleaser, and name-brand man on their roster. That’s the negative. The positive will be all the salary-cap limitations vanishing like an actor’s career after starring in a SyFy movie (Sharknado excluded?). This maneuver does not guarantee a timeline for possible Los Angeles success, but history says the Lakers will rebound in some form or fashion.

The other theoretical, Kobe deciding to continue to play, has a slew of alternative-dimension options. Would the Lakers keep him? Would Jim Buss have the gall to bluff Kobe, low-ball him, and continue to build a younger roster around him after implementing some wizardry and keeping him on the cheap? Or, you know, L.A. can overpay him again, leaving the franchise in the state of purgatory: The draw at the box office might be similar, but Rotten Tomatoes is scoring them somewhere below 20 percent.

So, yeah, all of that stuff matters… but then again, it shouldn’t, because we can’t allow it. Kobe Bryant will end up being one of the best basketball players any of us will have ever seen in our lifetimes. We need to start appreciating him as that, as well as understanding we also exist on limited time — the time we have to appreciate Kobe’s last Herculean efforts to equal the amount of rings Michael Jordan has on two sets of phalanges.

Here is what I am trying to say: Can’t we simply attempt to enjoy the end of a star’s run, so that we don’t spend the rest of our lives telling others how we wish we did?

At the end of the day, whatever Kobe Bryant decides to do matters… in the now. None of it matters, however, at the end of the day — because when it is all said and done, his legacy, our memories of him, and his place in NBA history should not and will not be tied to whether or not he wanted to play basketball after his prime, and after other people outside himself think he should have hung it all up.

It is always easier to tell other people what to do with their lives. That doesn’t make it right. Allow Kobe Bryant to retire — or keep playing — on his own terms. He’s earned at least that much, if not far more.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.

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