Like Jordan, Kobe's Game Changing With Age
But I think we’re long past the argument of whether or not to discuss he and Michael Jordan in the same sentence.
After watching Kobe rack up 33 points in three quarters against a deflated Detroit Pistons team on the road Wednesday, I picked up on an aura of maturity that has defined his 2010-11 season.
The self-proclaimed “Black Mamba’s” game is changing, and we can no longer point to his surgically repaired knee or eternally tweaked finger as possible reasons.
Let’s face it: 15 years in the NBA has taken its toll on the five-time NBA champ and all-time Lakers scoring leader. The high-flying dunks and almost inconceivable athleticism that once defined his play have dissipated with age and forced Bryant to alter his game for the better.
However, I’d argue that the wear and tear on Kobe’s body has actually made him a more dynamic player. He is no longer faster and more athletic than his opponents, and therefore he has to find other ways to put up points.
It was the same with Jordan.
I remember growing up watching Kobe completely baffle his opponents. In fact, “Kobe Stopper” was a much sought after title back in the day. Think about that. The likes of Raja Bell, Ruben Patterson and Bruce Bowen prided themselves on disrupting Kobe’s game.
What other modern basketball player can we say that about?
Does the name Bryon Russell ring a bell?
As a true student of the game, Kobe now prides himself on outsmarting and out-willing defenders. And if you take a close look at the way his game has evolved over the years, the resemblance to Jordan is quite remarkable.
Compensating for a noticeable decline in his hops, Kobe now incorporates a lot more post play and relies heavily on passing off the dribble and hitting fall-away jumpers to fill the stat sheet.
Moreover, Bryant’s maturity has had a profound effect on his team as a whole. Surrounded by the likes of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, Kobe’s new approach to the game has directly contributed to his recent success.
On the court, there are many similarities between the Jordan and Kobe, but there's one area in which Kobe will never be able to compare to Jordan and that's marketing impact. The branding legacy that Jordan left behind is one that paved the way for modern players, and that in itself cannot be replicated.
Jordan pioneered the idea of basketball as a brand, both domestically and internationally, and although this happened off the court, it had a profound impact on the way we remember him.
By the end of his career, I doubt even his most staunch critics will question placing Bryant in the Jordan conversation. After all, six championships are well within reach.
There may never be another Jordan, but Kobe is certainly following a similar career trajectory. Especially given the most recent changes to his game.