(Photo via Forbes.com)
The farewell tour that officially got started this past Sunday following Kobe Bryant’s announcement that he will retire at season’s end has not been the glorious final ride through the league that many had hoped.
In Kobe’s retirement announcement game at home he shot a horrid 4 for 20 from the field and while he gave the exuberant pro-Kobe crowd a trill with a clutch late second 3-point shot that got the Lakers within 1 point, reminiscent of his old late game heroics, the great feelings of the moment was quickly deflated with Kobe hoisting up a potential game tying airball to close the game out.
It got worse in game 2 of the farewell tour when Kobe returned to Philadelphia, a place he called home during his teenage years and where he rose to stardom as a high school basketball star, playing the winless 76ers who were fighting to prevent making history for the worst start to a season. Despite Kobe getting off to a scorching hot start by hitting his first 3 three-pointers to start the game, he went ice cold, 7 for 26 from the field and 4 for 17 from 3 in 31 minutes of play. Worst of it all the Lakers were the first team defeated by the 76ers this season and by the wide margin of 12 points.
Following the game Lakers fans flooded the post game radio show to voice their displeasure with what they had just witnessed from Bryant and pleading for an immediate reduction in his playing time on the court and shot output.
The take was similar from all media outlets that cover the NBA and it was that this act in its current form needed to stop now.
From strictly a basketball 101 stand-point Kobe’s play this entire season and that he continues to play a big role on the team despite his poor performance is indefensible even from the biggest Kobe zealots.
Bryant is shooting 30.1 percent from the field which is the lowest in the NBA for a player playing 30 or more minutes per game. He is also shooting 20.8 percent from 3 on almost 8 attempts per game; the lowest in the NBA for a player shooting 4 or more per game.
Taking all of the information available about Bryant’s play this season thus far it is reasonable for someone to call him the worst player in the NBA at this moment if you take into consideration his performance and amount of time he receives on the court. In addition, It would also be a reasonable for someone to hold the opinion that Bryant should have his role in the offense and time on the court dramatically reduced.
Except there is another segment, which is massive in size and frankly in importance, that has a justifiable case to demand that Bryant is on that court for as long as his body will allow each game and that he put on a show even if that means in his attempt to do so produces the laugh-er of a performance that resulted in Philadelphia and that it does little to help his team win. That segment is the paying public and paying they are; since Bryant’s retirement announcement the price to see a Lakers game just to see a glimpse of him on the court has skyrocketed.
USA Today reported that “Hours after the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard announced his retirement, ticket prices for most of team’s home and road games rose quickly on the secondary market.”
The article added some detail about just home much prices increased in the secondary market for upcoming Lakers’ road games.
“According to SeatGeek, the road games that saw the biggest price jumps in median ticket prices were games at Milwaukee (Feb. 22) 89 percent, Philadelphia (Tuesday) 78 percent, Utah (March 28) 76 percent and at Atlanta (Friday.)”
That final home game at Staples Center has the biggest increase as reported by Forbes on their Twitter account.
— Forbes (@Forbes) December 1, 2015
While the basketball purest side is correct in stating that what Bryant is doing on the court is not right, is ugly basketball and can’t continue, the fan side, specifically those that are paying a premium to watch Bryant play live for their last and in some cases only time, is also correct in wanting Bryant out there on the court for 40 minutes a game and launching up shots no matter the result.
Micheal Wilbon of ESPN capsulized both perspectives well this morning on the Dan Le Batard national radio show and demonstrated just how difficult this situation is for all parties involved by being pulled in both directions.
“Look, Basketball first and foremost is entertainment and last night in Philadelphia people got exactly what they wanted. They got to see Kobe Jack it up and they got to see the 6ers finally win a game. And these are two terrible teams whose fortunes are completely unaffected by Kobe Jacking it up.” Wilbon stated in the interview.
While understanding that high doses of Bryant in games is necessary for the entertainment and business side Wilbon also concedes that from the basketball perspective and need to develop the younger players on the Lakers’ roster it needs to be tempered.
“And he’s shooting too much, yea he’s shooting too much.” Added Wilbon.
Byron Scott gotta get this down, meet with him, talk with him and Kobe will realize this; he’s got to get this down to about 15 shots for him so they can figure in part what the other people on the team can actually play.”
However, Wilbon goes completely in the other direction and returns to the paying fans perspective in this Kobe debate when he admits to purchasing very expensive tickets for tonight’s game in Washington so that his son can see Kobe Bryant live for the last time.
“His [Wilbon’s son] Christmas present is I bought floor seats [to Lakers v Wizards game] tonight. We’re gonna sit on the floor, hopefully he’s gonna play on the second of back to backs or I just wasted a bunch of money, we are going to watch Kobe and I want to see him jack it up, that’s why I’m going. And I don’t know that many people in Washington feel differently.”
Wilbon an educated and well respected basketball commentator whose been covering basketball along with other sports for over 30 years struggles himself with taking a singular position on the Kobe jack-it-up or tone-it-down debate; his position changing when he switches hats from NBA commentator to NBA paying fan.
While what we have seen from Bryant thus far this season, the poor and high volume shooting, might be ugly basketball and unfair to those other players on the Lakers roster that are more deserving of time on the floor and shots based on their performance, the act must and will continue until season’s end because that’s what the fans want, not all fans, but the ones that really matter most in this discussion, the ones paying hundreds, even thousands for tickets to watch Kobe Bryant play for the last time.
I was one of those fans that took my kid for the very same reason, to watch Kobe Bryant play for what could be the last time. The game was against the Denver Nuggets pre-retirement announcement and Bryant shot 4-11 from the field, with many of those misses not hitting backboard let alone rim. Bryant finished with 11 points and like most of his games this season his overall performance was ugly but it was worth it for the shot of having my kid see the player that dad always raved about while growing up and for the chance of possibly catching one of those legendary Kobe-like games where he goes for 40 or even 50.
That legendary old-Kobe-like performance didn’t happen for me and my kid the game we attended, far from it, but it will happen at some point in the remaining 65 games and fans will flock to arenas all over the nation in hopes of catching THAT game and pay exorbitant costs to do it. What most will actually catch is something closer to what we saw last night in Philadelphia and what we’ve seen from Bryant all season, but that is the awkward situation that the Lakers and Bryant find themselves in today. A team in the Lakers that’s ready and needing to move on to the next stage having to wait for the Kobe Bryant farewell tour to reach its conclusion.
Along the way the two sides in direct conflict, the basketball purest wanting less of Kobe and those fans paying big money to see Kobe play wanting more, will just have to continue being at odds, continue to have debates over social media, radio waves and on TV. I don’t think either side is wrong in their position, they come from two completely different perspectives and each side’s argument has merit. in the end, however, the ones monetarily invested in this debate, the ones holding great importance in viewing a legend for the last time, that feel the need to salute and honor as they send off one of the game’s all time greats, justifiably will continue to get what they want which is Kobe Bryant in high doses, jacking up shots as he makes his way through town on his farewell tour.