December 6, 2013 by William Bixby
Kobe Bryant will go into the annals of the National Basketball Association as one of the very best players to ever play at basketball’s highest level. He is the second best shooting guard that has ever played the game and was one of the most dangerous scorers that the league has seen in recent history. But, his game is slowly eroding and the Los Angeles Lakers just signed the aging star to a max deal. This deal will pay him through his 36th and 37th birthday which are also his 19th and twentieth year in the league. Kobe should retire a Los Angeles Laker. He may be the best Laker that ever lived with all due respect to Magic Johnson. If he wins another championship ring then he will definitely be considered Johnson’s equal, but the 2 year contract extension for $48.5 million – though a gracious move by Lakers’ management – was a short-sighted deal by Kobe Bryant at best and gross mismanagement of team spending by the franchise at worst.
Kobe Bryant has spent the last 4 seasons in a steady decline, though he had a bit of a renaissance last season. His basketball acumen is still good enough to warrant the focus of defensive schemes, but Kobe is now scoring more so on “know-how” than on the dominance of his physical and technical skill. Despite all of this, his new contract will make Kobe the highest player in the league over the next two years despite only being a top twenty talent now – Bryant will make $23.5 million next year, and $25 million the following year. With the Lakers reaching the limits of the salary cap, the Kobe deal effectively stops management from signing two stars and pushing the team closer to another championship. Landing multiple players from the free agent class of 2014 – which includes players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Dirk Nowitzki, James Harden, and Tony Parker – could change the fortunes of the proud Lakers’ franchise. But, they are now handicapped by overpaying for an aging star. And, Kobe is at least partially to blame.
Kobe Bryant should have signed for a significantly smaller contract for the betterment of his team. He is worth more than $100 million dollars with all his endorsements, so money should not be the deciding factor for him. Kobe could have taken the league minimum which is set at about 5-7 million dollars for a veteran NBA player of his tenure, and cleared roster space for more talented players. But instead, he accepted all the money that the Lakers offered him, effectively dashing their hopes of competing.
Ironically, the same ego that pushed Kobe to become one of the best players in NBA history is now prohibiting him from reaching the heights that he wants to ascend to. Kobe is driven by a passion to usurp Michael Jordan as the perceived best player in NBA history. He patterned his game after Jordan and during his prime, Kobe was considered Jordan’s equal by some respected sports authorities. However, Kobe’s ego often puts him in several less than favorable positions. Bryant played next to one of the top five centers in NBA history in Shaquille O’Neal, but O’Neal deservedly received most of the accolades when the Lakers won. So, Kobe and Shaq fought constantly despite winning three consecutive NBA championships together and appearing in four consecutive NBA Finals. Each thought that the other was taking too many shots, they bickered over who would take shots in the final moments, and ultimately Shaquille O’Neal was run out of town. Kobe’s ego pushed him to want championships, but it also forced him to have to be the man. The hubris of Bryant killed a dynasty, and ran Dwight Howard out of town last season too. Once again, Kobe had a chance to play with the most dominant big man in the league and challenge for titles, but his desire to be the most revered player on the team overshadowed his desire to win.
This is the essence of the conundrum of Kobe Bryant. He is obviously talented, however he is also characteristically flawed and selfish. His decision-making does not seem to be based on what is best for the team even though that would lead to more recognition for him. He wants for everyone to fawn over his ability to win basketball games, and unfortunately that solely is impeding him from winning now.