Monday, March 14, 2016

The Last Days Of Kobe Bryant, Or Losing With Smiles

That Losing Smile
Tonight in LA, the Lakers hosted the Knicks in a battle of two teams that are going nowhere famously. New York led for much of the game, but the Laker subs, led by perpetual tease Lou Williams, made up the deficit and led by small amounts late. With the crowd in full throat and seemingly immune to the fact that they were watching a 14-52 team battle a 27-40 one, Bryant made a baseline jumper to give his team a 4-point lead with 92 seconds left. It was his fifth make of the night, on 12 attempts, and it's not as if he was giving the team anything else. Final line: 14/2/0 in 29 minutes, with a turnover, steal, and two fouls.

Carmelo Anthony made a three to cut the lead to one. Bryant missed a 14-footer. Anthony made a 21-foot pull-up to give his team the lead. Williams, the only Laker who took more than six shots on the night and shot 50%, connected on the Lakers' favorite play, Dribble It Up And Fire. Robin Lopez got to the line and made one to tie it up, and as the announcing team talked about what a wonderful game we were seeing, because Hero Ball Among Not Heroes Is Fun. After a timeout, everyone in the building knew what was coming. Bryant would take the clock down low, fire up something low percentage, and we'd either have overtime or a Laker win.

Only that's not what happened.

Instead, Bryant did his Old Man Not Accepting Limits routine on a One Against All drive and fire, catching nothing but air on a 12-foot jumper against, seemingly, the entire Knicks team, from the baseline with 9.9 seconds left. New York collected the rebound, called time to advance the ball, then held their very own spectacularly bad possession, barely avoiding multiple turnovers before Jose Calderon's prayer from 26 feet was answered. The Lakers called time with 0.2 left, but with no miracle on a tip three attempt from Bryant, that's your ball game.

Now, any other player, any other year? Would be chastised, correctly, for the decision to try a nearly impossible shot with time left on the clock. That player would also be asked why it's so hard to pass the ball late. Or why he's settling for low percentage twos, and not drawing contact for the bailout foul call. He'd also have his coach questioned about why a man who is shooting a career-worst 35.6% for the year, and would finish 5 for 15 on the night, took 3 of your last 4 shots, with no ball movement. Also, why the players that are the marginal future for this franchise (D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle) weren't out there in crunch time, gaining valuable and rare experience at executing in close and late situations. Especially as they might have had fresh legs.

Instead? Laker Fan stuck around to cheer on Kobe some more. The Lakers put yet another loss on Bryant's funeral pyre. People talked about how wonderful it was that Bryant's trying to manage his body, so that he can play in as many of the remaining Lakers games as possible.

And this is a legendary franchise, one that's won an absurd amount of championships, one that has had multiple Hall of Fame big men just show up, because being a Laker meant rings. One that seems to think that a reset is going to happen next year with a high pick, magical arrivals of new free agents, and, um, yeah, I have no idea.

Maybe they're right. Maybe they win the lottery, hit the pick, get good again fast.

Or maybe the defining highlight for the next five to ten years is cheering the guy who lost the game for you, who has spent the season as his own personal warm bath of losing and idol worship, in a circle jerk of nostalgia.

Even by Derek Jeter's standards, this is getting... well, frankly? Amazing.

And the best rebrand for the Lakers that this hater of their laundry could ever hope for.

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