You can’t put much past Kobe. We take his infallible determination for granted, think he’s capable of things far beyond human capabilities, and know better than to bet against him. But as he returns from what many considered a career ending injury (considering his age and the miles he’s logged), it remains to be seen who this Kobe Bryant is.
With his tremendous work ethic and cerebral approach to the game, he’s religiously added something new to his repertoire every offseason, and 17 offseason equals a lot of weapons. During that course, he’s always been the same player, just always getting more efficient, more refined, more deadly. Always getting better at being the Mamba, but never having to redefine himself.
Individually Kobe was never more fearsome than in the 2005-06 season. This was the emregence of the Mamba. He was pissed off and playing against the world. The world that judged him as selfish for breaking up a potential Laker Dynasty. That hated him for his legal trouble. He took that hate, that judgement, that venom and became something utterly frightful.
He started dropping video game scoring lines almost every night.
Here’s playlist of all his 40+ point games from that season:
In that season alone, he crossed the 40 point mark 23 times. He had 5 50 point games. FIVE! He dropped 62 on the Mavericks in 3 quarters and sat out the fourth because they’d blown them out so badly that the game was already over. And it all crescendo’d in the instantly legendary 81 point game against the Raptors. It was so unbelievable that people thought it was a typo in the box score.
It was Kobe against the world & Kobe was winning… with a team whose 3rd and 4th best players were Smush Parker & Kwame Brown (!!!), he shot his way to playoffs and pushed the then mighty Suns to 7 games. Single Handedly! He was the best player on the planet, the most feared scorer of his generation at his apex, and according to Bill Simmons, the deserving MVP of the league that season.
Since then his team’s gotten better, he’s won two more rings, fought the onset of age with secret procedures in Germany, and had his career hit by its biggest speed bump yet.
An torn Achilles at 35 is career altering. In any other player’s case, career ending. The injury coupled with the age may require Kobe to, for the first time in his otherwise mostly injury free career, reimagine himself as a different kind of basketball beast. But a beast nonetheless. It may take time, some early growing pains, but it will happen. This is Kobe we’re talking about.
But while we eagerly await the emergence of this new incarnation, while John Darnielle sings ’cause you just can’t do, thing’s your body wasn’t meant to’,
it would be good to look back at the Kobe that once was… and will always be.