Timing is Everything

Leave it to me to go ripping on Kobe hours before he hung a 60-spot on the Utah Jazz in his final game.

After all, I’m the guy who called Russell Westbrook overrated just as he was morphing from overrated (he really was!) into one of the very best players in the NBA.

Actually, Kobe’s performance last night was, as Seth Partnow aptly noted in Vice this morning, a microcosm of his career:

There may never be another Kobe Bryant. If that sounds clichéd, that’s because it is: we tend to say the same thing any time a great athlete retires.

However, in Bryant’s case, it’s probably true. And if you’re a basketball fan, it’s important to understand why.

Bryant was a rare and mammoth individual talent. Players with his skill, athletic ability, and competitive drive come along once a decade, and seldom play for two decades. Yet putting Bryant’s unique brilliance aside, there’s another reason we likely won’t see the likes of him again: because the NBA no longer wants Kobe Bryants.

Oh, sure, the league needs and demands star players on Bryant’s level. It has basketball #content to sell. Yet when it comes to how those stars play the game, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything approaching a Bryant facsimile. Sixty points on 50—that’s 5-0, a modern era record—shots, like the 37-year-old Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard put up on Wednesday night during his final game at Staples Center? Don’t expect copycats.

Much as the quest for fuel economy ended the reign of the muscle car in favor of the sporty hybrid, contemporary basketball’s focus on efficiency has rendered the Bryant-style volume gunner something of an anachronism, a hoops dodo being crowded out of the on-court ecosystem by the long-distance, floor-breaking wizardry of a Steph Curry, or the blatant analytic calculation of a James Harden.

To be sure, this is one of those moments when you throw out the box score. It would have been awesome to have been in the building last night.

On an unrelated note, I was struck by part of this segment yesterday with Chris Broussard:

Kate Fagan is making a point about how, when folks go to the Knicks, they’re changed, and not for the better, by the Knicks’ “culture.” One presumes she’s talking about culture in the broad sense of what kinds of norms and expectations are instilled in players when they arrive in New York. But Broussard responds by taking the conversation in a different direction. When he says the Knicks’ culture is unlike any other in the NBA, he’s referring to the corporate culture specifically. And that unique culture, for Broussard, has one overriding implication – it reduces his access to insider gossip.

Now it may be that the rigid top-down ethos of MSG has implications for how the team is assembled, including management’s openness to new ideas, analytics and so forth. And all of that would certainly have consequences for the quality of the team. But Broussard never makes that connection. The lack of press availability of team executives is connected to the team’s struggles because, well, it is. He’s conflated his access with any basketball-relevant insight.

Maybe I’m making too much of this (but, hey, that’s the point of this whole blog). But I was struck by this.

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