The fading, injured star just isn't worth more money than LeBron James.
The only way Kobe Bryant’s new $48.5 million contract makes sense is in dollars. That is, the kind of “bank shot” the Los Angeles Lakers will make if he can play like the Kobe Bryant of three seasons ago — which I’m skeptical of.
The prospects of seeing such performances from a 35-year-old superstar with rapidly eroding skills are about as good as seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings meet for the 2014 NBA title.
Look, I’m not saying that Kobe, still recovering from last April's Achilles tendon tear, is finished as an elite player. But…
OK, I guess I am saying so. He’s hardly the player he was during his prime years, seasons in which NBA fans could count on the Lakers making deep runs into the post-season. Those runs have ceased, and it’s not because the Lakers haven’t tried to surround Kobe with the right pieces.
A season ago they had Dwight Howard. Though a badly flawed player, Howard is the best big man in the league and should have complemented Kobe. Howard should have ensured the Lakers would make a strong run at earning Kobe his sixth NBA ring.
Instead, what we found out was that Kobe, bone weary because of the minutes coach Mike D’Antoni had him play, can’t carry a team on his shoulders like he did during his glory days. A player has only so many big moments in his career, and Kobe has used up almost all of his.
I guess I sound like a Kobe-hater to the legion of fans who cheer for all things Lakers. I’m not. Nor am I an apologist for Kobe who surely doesn’t need me to outline his case in a public forum.
What I am is a pragmatist. In watching this game, I learned a long time ago that the body will eventually give in to age.
In Kobe’s case, we’re watching an athlete break down, watching an athlete lose the edge he used to have over other superstars.
We’ve seen it all before: We saw it in Magic Johnson; we watched it in Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson; we saw it in Michael Jordan when he tried to squeeze an extra season out of his broken down body.
Watching a superstar fade in front of our eyes is a nightmarish sight. For in our minds we remember his greatness — and not his late-career struggles to hold on to the cheers.
But age won’t allow him that. He can’t box out everything.
Though I doubt it, Kobe Bryant might have another all-star season left in him. He could return and lead the Lakers to a seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Yet, to even expect that much from him is to believe that men don’t grow old, that their bodies don’t betray them, that their athletic skills remain what they were in a man’s prime.
Kobe’s prime was in the yesteryear. Back then, Black Mamba could take over an NBA game and could, single-handedly, carry the Lakers to a title. He alone was their “Show Time;” he alone was a star worth seeing, even if seeing him cost you the price of a Jack Nicholson seat.
Putting our cents into buying one of those seats does make sense. For no price is too high to pay for a sports fan to witness greatness, and Kobe Bryant, indeed, was great.
But he isn’t great anymore, and if no one else knows that, the front office of the Lakers surely should. Why would they risk compromising the team’s salary cap when superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will be for sale on the free-agent market in less than a year?
Now, that’s cents that would be well spent.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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