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Mamba Emeritus

A great television series captivates you. It is intuitive–the thrills and suspense are sprinkled in methodically, and the more mundane parts of the season are purposeful. It knows its audience.  Most importantly, a great television series knows when to end. If the show runs a little too long, in hindsight, it is probably as great a series as it could have been. Look at the critically-acclaimed series that have been iconic to this generation: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire. Now compare those shows to Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, and Entourage. Aside from the stark contrast in genres, these shows stayed well past their welcome. As fans, we are sad to see the shows end, but we are disappointed to see our shows devolve into cringe-worthy representations of what they once were. Go out on top, they say.

I have been watching Kobe Bryant since 1999. The “Kobe Bryant Show” has been one of the longest-running, exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat thrills that fans of the National Basketball Association (the “League”) has witnessed. Kobe Bean Bryant entered the League in 1996, making the 2015-2016 season his twentieth campaign–two decades which have been served in a Lakers uniform. He leads the Lakers all-time in (get ready for it):

  • games played*
  • minutes played*
  • points*
  • field goals made and attempted*
  • three pointers made and attempted*
  • two pointers attempted*
  • free throws made and attempted*
  • steals*
  • usage percentage*

*courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com

I witnessed Kobe secure his first three championships. I watched every game of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings, where the greatest playoff game (in my opinion) was played at Arco Arena. If my memory serves my correctly, it was a Sunday night, and the Lakers were visiting their state-and-division-rival Sacramento Kings in a deciding seventh game in a seven-game series. The odds of a road team winning Game Seven was slim-to-none. The Lakers, at that point, were back-to-back champions. The Kings had a championship-calibre roster: Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Hedo Turkoglu (yes, that Hedo), Bobby Jackson, and Scott Pollard. The Lakers had Kobe, Shaq, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and “Big Shot Bob” Robert Horry. The Lakers were a bit deeper, but the Kings had players on their bench who could score at will. As luck would have it, the game went to overtime. Kobe and Shaq combined for sixty-five points out of the total 112 team points. Boom. The Lakers pulled off what seemed to be insurmountable with a 112-106 victory.

The Lakers would go on to sweep the Nets and claim their third championship in as many years.

Let’s turn back the clocks to 1996. The Charlotte Hornets made a franchise-altering move by trading their overall draft selection (Kobe) for Vlade Divac (who was a Laker at the time). Kobe’s highlights were few and far between in his rookie year, but he did manage to win the NBA Slam Dunk Competition. The keys to the castle were handed to Shaq, the gigantic free-agent acquisition that the Lakers landed that summer.

Fast forward to the 2004 season where a Lakers squad comprised of Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone and Gary Payton were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in the finals.

This was the part of the Kobe Bryant Show that was one of those cliff-hanger season-finales. That offseason speculation ensued: was Phil, Kobe, or Shaq going to stay? It was like the show returned that season with a brand new cast, writers, and producers. Shaq was traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant. Payton and Fox were traded to Boston. Malone retired, after failing to win a championship. The Show was taking a huge risk, losing viewership, and possibly at risk of losing its bona fide star.

It got worse.

The Lakers failed to make the playoffs the season following the shake-up. The next few seasons saw the Lakers bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. Then, it happened.

Kobe wanted out. The star of the show was leaving. Possibly.

Now, history shows that when a star leaves a series the show is on its deathbed. Think back to That 70’s Show, Two and a Half Men, and The X-Files. Maybe one or two seasons followed the star’s departure, but even then, ratings dropped.

The Lakers were able to pull off one of the greatest highway robberies by virtually acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown and Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother). This trade instantaneously assuaged any concerns from Laker Nation that the team was in a rut. Kobe and Pau took the woeful Lakers to the NBA Finals in 2008, just four years removed from their last Finals appearance, and a few months after Kobe’s trade request. The Lakers would lose to the Celtics in six games, but the future looked promising for the purple and gold.

The League would witness the Lakers win back-to-back in the following two years. The Kobe Show pulled off an unprecedented move: facing damn near cancellation, the series witnessed a resurgence in ratings and was picked up for a few more seasons by the network. Kobe was voted most valuable player in 2008. The Lakers had a budding young star named Andrew Bynum.

Unfortunately, 2010 would be the final time Kobe would be in a position to win the NBA title.

David Stern (then commissioner) nixed a trade that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers.  In 2012, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash landed in Los Angeles in what would be one of the most disastrous seasons in Lakers history. Not only was it riddled with injury, but Kobe and Dwight had an (inevitable) falling out.

The Lakers lost Dwight the following summer for nothing. In 2014, Pau left in free agency.  Steve Nash retired. The Kobe Bryant Show lost all of its stars! By the way, Andrew Bynum never reached his potential and fizzled out of the League.

Was it time for Kobe to hang it up? Did the show run past its welcome?

A torn shoulder, fractured kneecap, torn Achilles tendon, bruised shin, sprained ankle, and fingers with arthritis were just some of the injuries that Kobe has experienced in his career. Somehow, Kobe was the highest paid player in the League. The show was paying its star a ton of money to finish poorly.

In the 2015-2016 season, an announcement came in November 2015. This season would be the last of the Kobe Bryant Show. Its final episode would air on 13 April 2016. There will be no playoffs.  No chance at a championship.

There will be a lot of losing. Kobe is tired. His body is worn down. His production has plummeted.

This is not exactly the show going out on a high. This is a twenty-year series that has been successful for the majority of its tenure, but has had some bad seasons to finish. Nevertheless, if we appreciate the accomplishments in the aggregate; the highs were much more memorable than the lows. The highest high will resonate more than the lowest low and there were many more of the former than the latter.

The question that you have to ask yourself is, how many series last twenty seasons? The Simpsons and Law & Order come to mind. Sure, there were a couple of forgettable seasons, but so many more fantastic campaigns. There is no question that these two series will live in television lore for years and years. These shows were/are legendary.

The Kobe Bryant Show is legendary. There will never be another one like it. This season was fitting. Was it perhaps a year too late to come to the realization that it no longer appealed to viewers? Apparently not, as some of that appeal still lingers, albeit in a slower, less efficient, more fragile form.

Twenty seasons is a rarity, especially on one team. The Kobe Bryant Show is one that we were fortunate enough to view. Tune in on 13 April to see its well-deserved, emotional finale.