Should you watch the Warriors’ try to capture the all-time NBA wins record, or see Kobe wheeze out the last breaths of his storied NBA career? Andrew Mulligan makes the call.
There are two history-making NBA games on today. Both have historical significance and both are completely different. On ESPN2, the Golden State Warriors have a shot at beating out Michael Jordan’s legendary 95-96 Bulls team for the all-time NBA regular season wins record. The team will have to overcome the Memphis Grizzlies’ grind-it-out gameplay with their poetry-in-motion offence to get to the elusive target of 73 W’s in an 82 game season.
This team has revolutionised the NBA. We’re seeing 13 made threes a game from anywhere on the court, defensive movement that leads to transition points so fast no lead is safe. Getting 73 wins in the cautious, player rest-heavy modern NBA is a feat so momentous it might not happen again, except maybe next year when the Warriors sign free-agent Kevin Durant and go 82-0. But that’s another column for another day.
Over on ESPN at 2.20pm, you’ll find a look back at what greatness was like when the ball didn’t move. When it either went into or through the post player in a complicated system known as the ‘Triangle’. It’s Kobe Bryant’s last game.
And thank God for that.
This afternoon, Kobe finally goes through the death throes of an amazingly crap season, served up by a Lakers organisation that mortgaged their future to let this happen. The most successful organisation in basketball history put their rebuild on hold for a year to serve up a travelling roadshow starring a decomposing superstar getting his money. In many ways, Kobe deserves it. He was the driver behind the Lakers’ broadcast deal back in 2011, when his star power helped win the organisation a 20-year contract with Time Warner Cable that averages $200 million a year for a total worth of $4 billion. Back then, he was the superstar who’d just won five championships with Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol.
That feels a long time ago today. Kobe’s last game will probably feature a lot of undeserved ‘MVP!’ chants every time he gets the ball. He’ll probably play 38 minutes, jack as many shots and have 34 points. And the Lakers will lose.
After all, they’re playing the Utah Jazz, who really need to win to get into the playoffs. Rodney Hood is the shooting guard, and he matches up really well with Kobe. One of the game’s great winners, will likely end his career a loser.
When does that mean? It means we’re done with the most belligerent NBA fans known to man: Kobe fans. Their idol deserves to be in the conversation for top 5 of all time, but his era is gone. The time of shooting first and asking what plays to run later is over. The freewheeling, pass-first style of the Warriors and Spurs is here. Kobe was a great competitor, he had the work ethic, the desire and belief to excel. He worked hard to be greater than his idol, Michael Jordan, often blatantly mimicking the Bulls great’s game.
But for all Kobe’s greatness, his personality always rankled. He was dismissive of teammates, petulant in times of trouble, ultra-competitive to a fault. For all his greatness, he was always seen as kind of an asshole. I held those preconceptions until I was afforded the opportunity to interview the entire USA Men’s basketball team in an open training session a couple of days before the London Olympics in 2012. I got to interview Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. All of them were courteous and responded with respect, but Kobe was amazing: smiling, gregarious, and most of all, engaging. In 4 minutes and 49 seconds he had turned me from being a doubter, a ‘hater’ if you will, internet, into a appreciator of his body of work. Yes, I’m easily impressed like that.
Having said that, you should watch the Warriors at 2:30 on ESPN 2. Watch the shit out of it because you may never get the chance to watch this kind of achievement again. Watch because it’s something you’ll talk about seeing for a long time into the future. If you switch over to the other channel, all you’ll really be doing is remembering the past.