There will never be another Kobe Bryant

Naveen Ganglani
There will never be another Kobe Bryant
At 36 and coming back from two major injuries, there's no denying Bryant is just trying to make the most of what's left in his career before Father Time takes him for good

MANILA, Philippines – There will never, ever be another Kobe Bryant.

Don’t get me wrong. Someday, another athlete with unworldly athleticism, incredible footwork, hard-nosed defense, superb clutch instinct, and a beautiful step-back jumper will make coaches in the NBA suffer. He might also win a few rings, a couple of MVPs, and earn tons of endorsement deals.

But he will never be Kobe Bryant.

Psychotic would be a nice term to describe Kobe’s obsession with winning. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. 

It’s tough to come up with a list who can match his competitive will and fire. I can think of only two: Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. 

Unfortunately for me, I never got to watch Jordan and Bird in their primes with the Bulls and Celtics. Much like any other basketball fanatic from my generation, I only had the opportunity to read and learn about their tales through books, through documentaries, and through words of those who were lucky enough to catch the two perform art on the basketball court.

But I was lucky enough to watch almost the entire career of Kobe Bryant unfold, which is something I’ll be fortunate enough to share with other basketball fans 10, 20 years from now.

From the game-winning shots, to the 81-point performance, to the headline-catching quotes, to the MVP season, to the championship seasons, to the rupture of his achilles, to this latest comeback, and up to the very last minute he’ll play in the NBA, watching Bryant was like watching a phenomenon. 

He was unpredictable. But it wasn’t just on the basketball court where he really built his legacy. Even outside it, he had the draw of a superstar that’s reserved for only a short list of players to ever set foot in the National Basketball Association.

The 2014-2015 NBA season is the first of the remaining two years in his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, which is expected to be his last with the franchise. At 36 and coming back from two major injuries, there’s no denying Bryant is just trying to make the most of what’s left in his career before Father Time takes him for good. 

He can’t anymore put up 40-point performances on a nightly basis. Every time he lands from a rare dunk, people cringe at the possibility that his knee might give in unexpectedly. There are even legitimate questions if he can still put up 20 points per game in his current physical state.

It’s also safe to assume we likely won’t see Kobe deep in the playoffs anymore in the near future. 

The Lakers’ roster isn’t good enough to compete for a high playoff seed in a ultra-competitive Western Conference, let alone an NBA championship. 

They have no rim protector and their defense is going to be horrible. 

Byron Scott, the new head coach, doesn’t want the team shooting 3-pointers, which makes no sense in the way today’s game is played. 

They have too many power forwards – one of whom a defensive liability way past his prime whom the Chicago Bulls banished. 

Nick Young, the team’s leading scorer last season, will miss significant time until December. Steve Nash has already been ruled out for the rest of the year.

(RELATED: Holding Court – Time, injuries have blunted the Lakers)

The list of problems surrounding this year’s team goes on and on, while the rest of the conference competition they face get better by the day.

But they do have something 29 other teams in the NBA can’t boast of: The Black Mamba, which means even if LA will get blown out a lot of times this upcoming 2014-2015 NBA season, many will still be tuned in to watch them, for better or worse.

And it’s hard to blame them. Bryant’s nearly done, so whatever memories we will be fortunate enough to get out of whatever’s left in his tank should be appreciated. 

He’s no longer the best player in the league, nor in the Western Conference, nor in the Pacific Division, and maybe neither in the city of Los Angeles as well with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in town. As was mentioned above, Bryant is barely staving off Father Time. Fighting it off to give his fans – and haters – a couple more seasons to remember. 

Fans now cringe in fear whenever Bryant leaps up for a dunk. File photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA

A couple more games to add to his legacy. An opportunity to go down on his own terms, regardless of the carnage he has to leave along the way.

“I’ve done the work, man. God knows I’ve done the work. If Father Time gets the best, he gets the best,” Bryant told

He’s right. Kobe Bryant will go down swinging and fighting. But when the inevitable time comes that he has to finally hang up his sneakers for good, not only will the NBA lose a legend on the basketball court; the world will lose a transcendent talent who always did things his way. Someone who never took no for an answer. Someone who placed winning above anything else.

Kobe isn’t perfect. He’s far from it. Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson are just some of those he’s feuded with over his career, and he played a huge role in the tarnishing of his relationships with the two. 

The sexual assault allegation that took place in Denver more than a decade ago will also remain with him for the rest of his life.

He isn’t the easiest teammate to be around either, especially to those like Dwight Howard who aren’t comfortable getting the hard truth slapped on their face. His antics to rile up his teammates have been questioned as well. 

But then that’s who Kobe Bryant is, and that’s why his fans – as annoying as they can get talking about “RINGSSSSS” – would move heaven and earth to defend him against a random basher on a random afternoon while on Twitter.

Winning. It’s everything in the world of sports. There can be talks and articles written all about sportsmanship, moral victories, and the spirit of competition. But history remembers victors. The record books talk about those who came out on top with wins, not those who finished in second or third place.

To an NBA player living an extravagant life, winning might not be everything. Once these guys are done playing their team’s scheduled game of the night, they go back home to their luxurious homes, to their fantastic cars, and to other aspects only the richest with their type of paydays can afford.

But for die-hard fans dedicating so much time, emotion, and money (tickets, League Pass) to supporting a team, they have nothing but celebrating a win by their favorite to look forward to every evening. After all, they don’t have an expensive house, top-notch car, or magazine cover supermodel to ease their pain after watching their favorite team lose.  

That’s why Lakers fans have been more than fortunate to have Bryant by their side for nearly two decades now. Winning matters to him more than anything, and he made sure to put it above everything. The Lakers might not win every single game they play, but what’s always certain is that Kobe Bryant always makes sure he gives his all on the court to help lead his team to victory. And as a sports fan, that’s all one can ask for out of his idol.

“People just don’t understand how obsessed I am with winning,” Kobe once said. 

And it wasn’t just the craving for victory that made Bryant such a popular figure. In today’s sports world where superstars like LeBron James are more concerned about saying the politically correct responses to the media and public in order to protect their image, Kobe doesn’t mind uttering what’s really on his mind or calling out anyone – teammate or rival.

Kobe Bryant didn’t care about what anyone had to say about him when he called Shaq “FAT” just before their time together as Lakers came to an end.

Kobe Bryant didn’t care what anyone had to say when he called Smush Parker the worst teammate he ever had. Or when he said the Lakers were too cheap to pay for a point guard. Or when he said this: “I almost won an MVP (in 2006) with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown on my team. I was shooting 45 times a game. What was I supposed to do? Pass it to Chris Mihm Or Kwame Brown?”

Kobe Bryant didn’t care about what anyone had to say when he tweeted “Amnesty THAT,” after putting up 38 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists against the Dallas Mavericks, for Mark Cuban who proposed the idea of the Lakers using the amnesty clause in 2013 to Bryant.

Kobe Bryant didn’t care what anyone had to say when, as an 18-year-old rookie, the first ever thing he told Michael Jordan was, “I could kick your ass one on one.”

That’s what Bryant is about. It’s that dedication to winning, the willingness to keep going, and the sometimes irrational confidence he has in himself that puts his name synonymous to the likes or Jordan and Bird and makes the type of player anyone would want on their team. Many don’t like Kobe, and that’s understandable. But if they can’t respect his competitive fire and edge, then such a choice would be a mistake. 

(RELATED: Healthy Kobe Bryant seeks to silence critics)

Once in 2011, right before the Lakers’ second go at a 3-peat came to an end at the hand of Dallas, Bryant declared that his team would make history. “I think we’re still going to win this,” Kobe said with Los Angeles down 0-3 in their Western Conference semis series against the Mavericks after Game 3.

“I might be sick in the head or something,” he also said.

The craziest part was he looked like he genuinely believed they were still going to win. LA lost Game 4 in obliterating fashion, 122-86, but Kobe didn’t concede defeat at any moment, which was all Lakers fans could ask for as they watched what was supposed to be a dynasty come to a premature finish.

But even his mortality finally gave in on April 12, 2013. Against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant tore his achilles on what was a typical drive from the perimeter, altering the remainder of his career. From the look of his face, it was clear he knew what was wrong. The achilles was torn. He would be gone for a while.

But he couldn’t go down just yet. “They want and need him at the free throw line,” the Lakers play-by-play man said. He was right. LA was down two, Kobe had already scored 32 points, but a loss to Golden State would have hurt their chances at making the 2013 postseason.

So with a destroyed achilles, Bryant dragged his legs to the free throw line and made both shots in what was one of the most iconic moments ever in his career and a moment the NBA will always celebrate. 

His mortality finally gave in, telling him he wasn’t as invincible as he thought he was. “Kobe Bryant cannot continue,” the play-by-play man said. But even at the face of adversity, knowing his career could have very well ended in that moment, Bryant refused to go down on any terms other than his own.

It was a bittersweet moment, witnessing the fall of one of the game’s greatest warriors but seeing him put up at least one more stand, unrelenting in the pursuit of his goal.

Rest assured, it will be the same for whatever’s left of his career. His torn achilles and knee injury might have robbed us of the rest of his prime, but Bryant will certainly have a few more unforgettable moments to conceptualize over these next two seasons.

Kobe Bryant is one of a kind, someone who will be remembered for both his tremendous talents on the basketball court and boldness off it when he retires. But until he does, let’s appreciate what we have left of Kobe, for however little it may be. 

No one can replace him. And no one ever will. –

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