Kobe Bryant is retiring. He’s not dying.
While his storied 20-year career deserves to be celebrated, it doesn’t have to be completely worshipped now. After the season, sure. When he makes it to the Hall of Fame, definitely. But ever since the Black Mamba announced his decision to call it quits after the 2015-16 season, the entire league has gone way overboard in adoring him.
Every game is a last – Kobe’s last time at a certain arena, or against a certain player, or versus a certain team. Nearly all of his opponents have shown a video honoring the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer either before tipoff, during halftime or in the middle of a timeout.
It’s all endearing and well-intentioned. But at a certain point, it’s too much.
Leading up to last Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, every player interviewed mentioned how this one was special because it would be Bryant’s last. That’s respect.
Once the game started, it turned into something else.
LeBron James let Bryant win the opening tip. On one of the first exchanges of the game, it looked like LBJ was openly inviting his nemesis to score. Even in an exhibition that features zero defense prior to crunch time, it was pretty strange to see James seemingly try to give Bryant a bucket.
Is that honoring a legend, or is it pseudo-respect?
Bryant is having the worst season of his life when it comes to shooting. He’s hitting a career-low 34.9 percent of his field- goal attempts while giving the lottery-bound Los Angeles Lakers 16.9 points per game. Before he announced his retirement on Nov. 29 through The Players’ Tribune, every media outlet was ripping him.
He wasn’t sharing the ball. He wasn’t letting the team’s future – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle – grow. He was putting up more air-balls than 20-point outings.
And then, with one heart-wrenching poem, everything changed. Suddenly, he was what Derek Jeter became in 2014.
Larger than his sport.
Instead of video tributes, the New York Yankees icon was presented with gifts before his lasts. That season, No. 2 put up some of the worst numbers of his distinguished career. Just like Bryant. Jeter played in the All-Star Game thanks to the fan-vote. Just like Bryant. And Jeter was excessively lauded.
Yeah, just like Bryant.
Perhaps The Captain played a role in what was easily the best PR move of Bryant’s career. After all, No. 24 announced his decision to retire through Jeter’s website.
On Sunday, Kobe’s final ASG overshadowed Paul George, a year-and-a-half removed from the ugliest injury most people will ever see, coming within a point of the single-game scoring record. It took attention away from Rus- sell Westbrook becoming the first back-to-back MVP since Bob Pettit in 1959.
What’s next? Will both teams in the NBA Finals have to play with Bryant’s face on their jerseys?
Kobe’s time will come. But if the league keeps pouring on the videos, the speeches and the wide-open baskets, that time won’t be as special as it should be.
There simply won’t be anything left to say.
Tom Duffy is a journalism major from Woodbridge, N.J. He can be reached at thomas.duffy@student. shu.edu or on Twitter @TJDhoops.