Still think Kobe is old?
So where are all those Kobe Bryant fearmongers now?
You know the ones. Frantically, almost hysterically, they were saying that the Lakers’ superstar had grown old overnight. Look how slow and hesitant he appeared in some of those Oklahoma City games, they muttered. It has finally happened, they said. Age has caught up to him.
Well, age looked pretty much beaten down in the Jazz series, didn’t it? Old man Kobe was spry enough to score 30 or more points in each of the L.A.’s four victories.
Lakers’ fans can smile and heave a large, relaxed sigh now. It wasn’t age that slowed him down in the series with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. It was a series of injuries, including a sore knee, that was probably the biggest culprit.
But a few days off, some rest and treatment, and guess what? The younger looking, more aggressive Kobe was back.
“I feel healthy, that’s the big difference,” he told writers after Game 4 in Utah.
Here is the one thing you have to remember above all else about Bryant: The guy is the ultimate competitor. His passion to win is as strong as any athlete I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around a few.
That’s why he’s always been the hardest working Laker. That’s why, in the heat of those old Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe debates, I always leaned toward the younger, leaner, more obsessed player of the two.
As dominant as Shaq could be, he never wanted it the way Kobe does. O’Neal never put in the work in the off-season. He never tried to improve his horrible foul shooting, never bothered to keep his body in shape.
Kobe is just the opposite. Even now, as the highest paid player in the NBA, his work ethic astounds those around him. It is remarkable that the league’s richest star also remains its hungriest.
This is not to imply that Bryant is perfect. Clearly, he is not. There are still times when he controls the ball too much. There are still instances when, surrounded by two or three defenders, he goes up for a terrible percentage shot. But with Kobe, you put up with it.
Because you know he’s still the baddest man in the sport. You understand that, in the closing seconds of games, there is no one else like him.
LeBron James, who is bigger and stronger, is a better all around basketball player now, but he hasn’t won a championship yet. If we’re lucky, and David Stern’s fondest dream comes true, we’ll get Kobe against LeBron in the Finals in June.
The two best players in the world going head to head. That would be fun.
But lest anyone wonders between now and then, just in case there is any lingering doubt, let’s get one thing straight about Bryant:
He is not growing old anytime soon.
— Steve Bisheff