Like most misunderstood and underappreciated artists, Kobe Bryant will be remembered more fondly when he is gone.
Years from now, basketball historians should look back in bewilderment that Bryant won only one NBA MVP award and Steve Nash, Bryant’s injured teammate, won two.
Make no mistake, Kobe Bean Bryant is an artiste. His canvas is 94 feet by 50 feet. His work is polarizing. He can be temperamental and enigmatic and tends to see the world through only his lens. Love him or hate him, appreciate the artist known as Kobe while you still can.
Now in his, gulp, 19th season and rounding the final corner of his career, the 36-year-old Bryant made what will likely be one of his final appearances in Boston on Friday night as the Celtics hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden.
Kobe left here a 113-96 loser, his 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting not nearly enough to offset the inexperience, ineffectiveness, and apathy of this edition of the Lakers.
You had to feel bad for Bryant considering the squad of basketball bystanders the Lakers have surrounded him with in the winter of his career. Lakers coach Byron Scott said his team looked “disinterested in playing.”
Jordan Hill got the Kobe Death Stare in the first half when he watched a Bryant pass zip by him.
A wistful and introspective Bryant seemed to be soaking in this Boston visit and acknowledging his athletic mortality when he spoke Friday afternoon following the Lakers’ shootaround. After the game, Bryant even waxed poetic about getting booed by Boston fans, even though there were few boos on this night.
“I just think kind of looking around and digesting it a lot more so than I have in the past, just kind of taking it all in a little bit,” said Bryant.
Bryant came into town leading the NBA in scoring at 26.0 points per game. That would be the highest points-per-game output of any player in NBA history age 36 or older or in his 19th season or later. But Bryant was taking 22.4 shots per night and shooting a career-worst 39.0 percent from the field.
Earlier this season, Kobe passed Celtics legend John Havlicek for the most missed field goals in NBA history (13,579 entering last night).
Bryant is just 99 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Reaching those two marks in the same season defines Bryant.
It is Bryant’s great misfortune that his career so closely followed after MJ’s. It was a standard that Bryant — or anyone else — was destined to fall short of. If Bryant had come before Jordan, then the comparison would have been kinder for Kobe.
Bryant has five rings and matching Jordan’s haul of six seems unlikely, given Bryant’s advanced stage and the Lakers’ need for a Hollywood rewrite of their roster.
Bryant feigned disinterest in passing Jordan. It was the same facade he put up when the Celtics and Lakers met in the 2010 NBA Finals. He downplayed the significance of winning a Celtics-Lakers Finals until Los Angeles won Game 7, when he admitted he had been fibbing all along.
Bryant was asked about the constant Jordan comparisons and carving out his own place in NBA annals.
“Well, I have,” said Bryant. “We’ve had different career paths completely. But I feel a great sense of accomplishment having to carry on the two-guard legacy from Jerry [West] to Michael to myself. I feel great about that.”
All anyone really wanted to talk about with Kobe Friday was his breakfast summit with Celtics point guard and free agent flight risk Rajon Rondo on Thursday at a Beacon Hill eatery. Photos of the two basketball rebels breaking bread went viral.
Perhaps Kobe offered Rondo some free throw shooting tips as he asked him to pass the butter.
Any claim that this is a sign that today’s athletes don’t appreciate a rivalry is misguided.
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain would eat at each other’s houses and nap in each other’s beds before games.
Bryant described the breakfast with Rondo as a “basketball geek conversation.” Just two misunderstood basketball geniuses comparing notes.
“We get along extremely well,” said Bryant. “We see the game in a similar fashion in terms of our aggressiveness and mind-set. It was good to get together with him.”
Bryant has always had an appreciation for hoops history and particularly the unique tapestry of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
No player has spent more seasons in the purple and gold than Bryant. He is the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. He still chafes over getting rolled in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals here.
Even in the rivalry’s current depressed and depressing state, Bryant knew facing Boston was not just another game. (The Celtics and Lakers have a combined 33 NBA titles but entered this game with 10 combined wins this season.)
“Right now, both teams we’re not what we used to be,” said Bryant. “But it’s always an eerie feeling walking down the halls and being surrounded by green. It’s always a weird feeling. It’s a great one, though.
“Growing up and watching this franchise and then being a part of some great battles and being here. It’s a very special place, man.”
Kobe is looking back fondly on the road he has traveled because the pavement of his playing days is running out fast.
He suffered a torn left Achilles’ tendon in April of 2013. He played in just six games last season because of a fractured tibial plateau in his left knee. He has one year left on his contract at $25 million per season.
Kobe Bryant’s oeuvre is nearly complete.
For pure basketball fans, that’s something much harder to chew on than breakfast with Rondo.