A couple of years ago, I went with my brother to a Lakers game against Memphis, and Bryant scored 56 points in three quarters before being taken out of a blowout. I told my brother, “remember this, because you won’t see it again for a while.” So much for that.
Sports is an area where hyperbole comes so fast and furious there is a reasonable tendency to discount it. But Bryant’s 81 last night was history-making. One could make a decent argument that it was more impressive than Wilt’s 100. Bryant (81 out of 122) had a higher percentage of his team’s point than Wilt did (100 out of 169). It was a higher-scoring era back then. And Wilt was basically the only 7-footer who didn’t trip over himself; he had a unique comparative advantage that Bryant does not.
I’ve been a Laker fan since I was six, and so I qualify as an old-timer in this field. (If you can say who was the Lakers’ center in between Wilt and Kareem, how the Lakers got him and what his uniform number was, then you qualify. Don’t try this at home.). I’ve never been a huge Bryant fan outside of the fact that he plays for my team, but you’ve got to say that the decision to let Shaq go and keep Kobe is looking better and better every day. The Lakers are 22-19 at the break, which won’t make anyone forget Showtime, but the Heat are only 24-17. Put another way, neither of these teams is going to win the title, but Shaq looks old. He’s just not the player he used to be. He always turns it around come playoff time, but he’s very much on the down side. Can you imagine if the Lakers had kept him, and he had to carry the team without a Dwayne Wade playing alongside of him?
It’s silly to try to assign blame for who was at fault for the breakup; let’s just say that these two monstrous egos couldn’t keep playing together. If that’s so, these last few weeks seem to show that the Lakers did the right thing. I can’t see a way that they get back to championship level for a while, but it will be a fun show in the meantime.