The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet
Today is about Kobe Bryant, whether you like it or not. The minute he announced his intent to retire yesterday, we were destined for a shower of content so great that the entire Internet would be covered in a vast but shallow sea of reactions to the news. Wade with care, however, as there are deep spots in the expanse of tepid takes, pieces that may have you feeling something despite yourself. This Silver Screen and Roll roundtable, for example, is touching in its naked honesty. There are few attempts to justify Bryant, and the demands that his historical impact be recognized seem secondary. Mostly, this is just a collection of NBA fans, many of which can’t remember a league without Kobe, coming to terms with the loss of an icon, and realizing the NBA will never be the same.
A quick confession – I have been an NBA fan for only six years, which means I do not know how a legendary player’s retirement is typically handled. That being said, it is hard to imagine this piece being written by anyone but Kobe Bryant, which weirdly feels more like a testament to his unique legacy than anything else. AllThatAmar’s critique of Bryant won’t surprise anyone who’s followed the discourse around #24 over the years, but that doesn’t make them less valid. If excoriating Kobe for his gunner’s mentality and failure to focus on team ball feels rote and unnecessary, it also shows a mule-headed stubbornness on the level of Bryant himself. There’s something admirable about sticking to what you believe in both cases.
This column is nearly a year old, but it remains the best piece of writing on Bryant in decline, a simply stunning portrait of the basketball artist as an old man. Thanks to the recurrent futility of the Lakers, Phillips’s characterization of their season as “a farce made of missed 15-foot jumpers” still feels fresh; more importantly though, he gives us the perfect lens through which to view the last days of Kobe Bryant, if not his whole career. Bryant has always been a laborer in Phillips’s view, the player whose legend is built on endless practice sessions and a complete refusal to be outworked. These final months then, are what happens when Kobe, defined for so long by his confidence and resilience, takes the floor with a clear understanding of just what it is he cannot do.
That is probably enough Kobe, especially because tomorrow’s Starting 5 will likely bring more reminisces and reflections on the Lakers’ departing star. Instead, we’ll allow Robert Covington, the one pure success of the Sixers’ many reclamation projects, to steal a moment in the spotlight. Most fans outside of Philly probably know Covington only as an unexpectedly valuable fantasy player, but he’s in the middle of a crazy streak on defense right now, with six-plus steals in each of his last three games. No one has gone more than two games in a row with that many burglaries since 1986, which is maybe not surprising because dang that is a lot of times to take a basketball away from someone else during a basketball game! It is clearly not as exciting as either the Warriors winning or the Sixers losing as far as NBA streaks go, but it is at least something else to look for when the Lakers and Sixers play tomorrow night.
This is just a cool thought experiment/history lesson, although it feels a little premature barely two months into the season. The point though, about how easily conference finals losers are forgotten and how greatness can be overshadowed by perfection, is well taken. The Spurs are an excellent basketball team still rounding into form, but as has been the case so often in the past, their quality is going unheralded around the league. The fireworks in California have blinded so many of us to anything else in the West that we’ve happily granted Golden State a place in the NBA Finals, unthreatened by the challengers they’ll face along the way. It’s not quite fair, but neither is how well the Warriors are playing. San Antonio faces an uphill climb if they want to be more than a footnote when they’re telling the story of this NBA season.