In all of this, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook share the next great bond.
At the dawn of the superstar era in the NBA, Magic and Larry went at each other, fighting over the throne. Then one USA Dream Team practice, a new sheriff rose, whether they liked it or not. The legend of Michael Jordan arrived and there was no turning back. Michael Jordan then went on to surpass them championship-wise and became the GOAT.
MJ then saw his 1A when a young showboater from Lower Merion High School came onto the scene and stole the spotlight slowly, progressively, year after year. This teen that rocked sunglasses on his bald head when he declared for the NBA Draft was the next big thing.
One can argue that Kobe Bryant rode Shaquille O’Neal’s back en route to his first three championships, but who needed whom more? Was that a great oop finish by Shaq to bury the Blazers in 2000 or was that a great basketball IQ pass and play by Afro Kobe?
And three titles didn’t mean they could co-exist. A Colorado case and flop stopovers from two Hall of Famers later, and Kobe was labeled a team cancer. Everyone bolted. Shaq. Phil Jax. Gone. Starting from scratch was the only option and that meant passing the ball to the likes of Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Chucky Atkins (as if passing the ball in itself wasn’t already enough of a challenge for Kobe.) Stuck in mediocrity, he jacked up shots like he had blinders, leading to a scoring title, the second most points scored in a game and one-and-out playoff stints, when they did qualify for the postseason.
When the Black Mamba was born, there were signs of maturity, a killer instinct not seen before or if it was present, it was Good Burger that turned into Mondo Burger. Rising again, the Mamba copped two more championships, and came close to an MJ-esque three-peat, had it not been for the Dallas Mavericks.
But while Kobe was dominating out West, a young, indestructible, Optimus Prime-like force was emerging in the East. A new King was born. LeBron James set out to become a top-5 player of all time, but showed signs that he lacked that killer instinct. Two championships later, he’s set his new path, returning to where it all started in the Land.
Right now, back out West, The Mamba’s days are almost over and that new alpha male role in tinseltown is up for grabs.
It was only this year when the Cavs faced the Lakers in Staples Center that we saw Kobe’s love and respect for LeBron. They laughed after each possession, making the game seem like an awkward lark in the park between two friends. Since then, we have seen a different Mamba. The Interview with Ahmad Rashad showed a competitor at peace.
Sidelined once more, Bryant took to campaigning for current Dallas Maverick Rajon Rondo. Then his passion shifted to defending legends on Twitter. Greatness recognizes greatness, and the bond between Kobe and Russell West was only solidified when Kobe posted this meme about Russ’ 43-shot game.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 13, 2015
When Russ was asked about what he thought about the Mamba having his back, he said “That’s my guy. That’s my guy. That’s my guy.”
Some might say that this is a recruiting ploy to get Russ to play for LaLaLand. Whether it is or not, Russell Westbrook is on the verge of becoming the face of his craft. On and off the court. I mean, the Jordan Westbrook I is an off court shoe.
I feel for Russ. During All-Star Weekend when he and Kevin Durant were seated a few feet from each other, media repeatedly asked the same questions, as if the room was echoing loudly all at once in different languages. How do both of you co-exist? Who takes the last shot? It felt like Russ would be the first one to snap, RKO someone on the table and just walk out in his Moncler jacket and Jordan 1 Fragment sneakers and leave everyone stunned as if he cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase. Maybe the same guys who live for off-court drama were out to forge a Shaq-Kobe redux with KD and Russ.
But in all of this, Kobe Bryant has picked his apprentice. The guy he has bestowed greatness and the pressure that comes with it is now here.
Who is he? He’s mister double-digit triple-doubles, the man resurrecting the Oscar Robertson debate of “Will we ever see anyone average triple-double again?”
RW fought tooth and nail without KD, without Iblocka, and though he came up one game short, He’s only 26 and on his way to his GQ covers.
So without the Playoffs, he goes back in the kitchen, honing his skills and polishing those pistols that he brings out and blows the smoke off when he makes a big shot.
I used to hate Russell Westbrook. But his performances this year showed everyone he didn’t need to do a Roast ala Justin Bieber. He made everyone fans. Now we just wait and get ready for The Cyborg. The Terminator. “He will be back” Aaaahnold voice. They shared the same hate, and they will share the same love and respect. We let Kobe be Kobe. Now it is time to “Let Russ be Russ.”
Photos by Jamie Squire/Getty Images Europe, Ronald Martinez/Getty Images (x2)