The Black Mamba is back! While the NBA’s season has progressed over the last month, a void in the basketball universe was ever present. Love him or hate him, an NBA with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines felt odd and incomplete. Yes, there will come a day when the NBA will have to move on once the Mamba hangs up that purple and gold amour for good â€“ not for at least two more years due to his contract extension â€“ but for now, a Kobe-less NBA simply didn’t feel right. Just think about it; there are high school seniors that will graduate this May who have never seen an NBA without Kobe Bryant. Pretty unreal, right?
That void disappeared Sunday night, as Kobe laced up his newly released retros, put on his Lakers’ Sunday whites #24 jersey, and made his long-awaited season debut coming off Achilles surgery last April. A pitch-black Staples Arena filled with exuberant fans greeted Bryant during a dramatic, yet fitting, player intro with “The Imperial March” from Star Wars echoing throughout the arena, signifying that The Mamba is ready to strike again. The stage was officially set, and now Kobe will venture on to the self-named “Last Chapter” of his spectacular career.
Why is Kobe Bryant’s return to the hardwood good for the entire NBA and its fans? Let’s take a look.
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10. UNOFFICIAL RECRUITMENT OF FREE AGENTS
It is no secret that the Lakers have set their sights on the 2014 and 2015 offseason to do their damage via free agency. Los Angeles and, in particular, the Lakers have been a free agent magnet for decades. However, the new restrictions and harsher luxury tax system set in place under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) have tightened the leash for the Lakers front office to go after just about anyone they want. On top of that, bad contracts have added a few knots to that leash. That will change next summer with their rather clean books â€“ even with Kobe’s large chunk of salary. They have enough to go after and sign one max-contract player and other solid players to lesser deals. Since the front office can’t contact potential free agents without violating tampering rules, Kobe’s performance for the next 62 games will have the attention of those free agents, and could very well play a major role in their decision to join the 5-time champion next season or not.
9. ALL-TIME SCORING LIST: JORDAN’S NEXT
For the last few seasons, it seemed like Kobe Bryant has been going through a streak of breaking records. Last season, Kobe surpassed Wilt Chamberlain to take over the fourth position on the all-time scoring list. Next up is none other than Kobe’s idol, Michael Jordan. Jordan finished his illustrious career with 32,292 points and the third spot on this list, behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With his nine points in his season debut on Sunday, Bryant’s all-time points total now stands at 31,626, meaning he is a mere 667 points away from surpassing Air Jordan. As that dwindles down, expect the league to come to a standstill.
8. RELEVANCE TO MEDIOCRE GAMES
There has been a ton of talk recently about the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference â€“ with the exception of Indiana and Miami. Unfortunately for the East, the West regained one of its most lethal weapons with the return of The Black Mamba. However, all teams with a sub-.500 record, mainly in the East, have more attention coming their way when Kobe and the Lakers come to town. Love him or hate him, Kobe draws attention and hype like no other in the game, which is welcomed by small markets and struggling teams. Look at the amount of attention an early regular season match between a 10-9 Lakers and a 6-12 Raptors team received on Sunday. The NBA is a business, and Kobe Bryant is good for business.
7. GIVING MORE POWER TO THE WESTERN CONFERENCE
As mentioned above, Kobe’s return to the floor only boosts the power of the Western Conference. Yet, the main question for the Lakers now is will his presence shake up the West a bit? It is simply unfair to judge Kobe’s impact solely based on one game, as that is too small of a sample size to do so. The Lakers exceeded expectations during their time without Kobe, earning a winning record of 10-9 going into Sunday’s game against Toronto. It will be interesting to see just how Kobe will affect his teammates and the team’s game plan. Fans will be watching to see just how powerful the West can be with the addition of The Mamba and if he can lead the Lakers to a playoff appearance.
6. RIVALRIES ARE MORE INTERESTING
Rivalries make the sports world go round. The NBA is sporting new rivalries and un-surfacing some old ones in the game today. While the league’s best historical rivalry â€“ Lakers-Celtics â€“ has been put on the backburner for now, Lakers games against the Clippers, and the Rockets especially, will gain tremendous hype now with the return of Bryant. These games are not technically rivalries, but they are the closest to it. The battle for L.A. is must-see TV, especially since the Lakers shocked the Clippers on opening night and beat Dwight Howard‘s Rockets on his homecourt thanks to a Steve Blake buzzer-beater. And that was without Kobe Bryant.
5. HATERS HAVE WOKEN UP
Kobe Bryant’s standing in the all-time greatest list is one of the most debated topics among fans, if not the most. You can see it on a daily basis on Twitter and other social media platforms. Bryant is the most polarizing player in the game today, and the Lakers are the most beloved/hated team in the NBA. The LeBron vs. Kobe or the Jordan vs. Kobe arguments will pick up now that #24 is back on the court, but did it really ever go away in these eight months?
4. FINDING OUT WHAT ADJUSTMENTS HE’LL MAKE
Bryant has already said that he would take on more of a facilitator role when he returned. During Sunday’s debut, viewers could see a hint of that, as he tried to make plays, especially for Pau Gasol, instead of shooting â€“ although viewers learned that he did not forget his crossover. While Kobe and his teammates need more time on the floor to establish timing and rhythm â€“ which is the main reason for his eight turnovers on Sunday â€“ it will be interesting to see if he sticks with the facilitator role or if he draws back to his shoot-first mentality when Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar return. Will we see the old Kobe â€“ or at least the closet form to it â€“ or will we see a new Kobe? Either way, fans will be watching closely at what adjustments Kobe will make to his game as he gets more comfortable on the court.
3. PROVING HISTORY WRONG
Since Kobe Bryant went down on April 12 with a completely ruptured Achilles tendon, NBA fans have heard about the historical diagnoses of an Achilles injury being a career-ending injury. Will Kobe go down the path of Chauncey Billups or Dominique Wilkins â€“ who both had Achilles injuries â€“ when he returns? With one game into his return, fans still don’t have the complete answer, but it’s safe to say that Kobe will create his own path. Medical advancements, combined with Kobe’s unmatched drive, will carve out his own yellow brick road from here on out. The history and the doubt are just motivation for Kobe to prove them wrong — just ask Kobe about his ESPN ranking as the league’s 25th best player or his continuing battle with Father Time. As Ice Cube points out in the video below from Nike, he wouldn’t be Kobe Bryant if he didn’t.
2. THE LEGEND CONTINUES
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers revealed a dramatic video on Bryant’s Facebook page last week not only informing the NBA and basketball fans that he would be returning on December 8, but also that “The Legend Continues.” As Kobe embarks in the final stage of his career, fans will be watching to see just how he extends his vast resume for here on out. How many more records will he break? Will he capture that sixth ring? While his final spot in the all-time greatest ranks is still a work in progress, there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest ever to step foot on the hardwood and is a living legend.
1. HOLLYWOOD ENTERTAINMENT AND DRAMA
There is no doubt that Kobe Bryant belongs to Los Angeles. After all, he is one of the most prolific and dramatic entertainers all time in the NBA. His countless game-winners, comebacks, and epic clutch shots epitomize plot climaxes only seen in Hollywood scripts. The late and great Dr. Jerry Buss envisioned providing the fans the best entertainment basketball could offer on a nightly basis. Heck, even Jack Nicholson is the Lakers’ unofficial mascot. What Magic Johnson started with the Showtime era, Kobe Bryant has continued and has carried that torch with great success. Los Angeles has its basketball star back, and the NBA is grateful for it.
What do you think?
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