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VOL. 130 | NO. 251 | Monday, December 28, 2015
Don Wade

Don Wade

Almost Gone: Kobe, Carter and an Era

By Don Wade

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There were moments. For the great ones, for the future Hall-of-Famers, there are always moments.

So yes, Kobe Bryant can still occasionally cross somebody over and run toward the rim. Sunday night at FedExForum, he even did it to Tony Allen.

In fact, on Dec. 27, Kobe even had a whole first quarter of flashback fun: 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, 2 of 5 from deep.

Kobe Bryant (24) says Tony Allen (9) has been the best at defending him. “He does his homework. He’s old school.” 

(AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

Nothing wrong with any of that.

Then, in the second quarter, the Grizzlies’ Great One, Vince Carter, threw down a vicious one-hand slam dunk.

Alas, they were his only two points of the night.

“It’s almost that time to ride into the sunset,” Carter said afterward.

Carter, who turns 39 next month, wasn’t just talking about himself. Or even just about himself and Bryant, who is 37 and already announced this will be his last season.

Rather, Carter was speaking of their entire era, reminiscing about how as Michael Jordan went out the door they were coming in the door. Now, Carter looks around and ticks off the names of the other guys from their fraternity still playing:

“Tim (Duncan), Paul (Pierce), Dirk (Nowitzki). The group of guys that are left,” Carter said, “we have an appreciation – ‘hats off to you buddy,’ we’re still holding on.”

Kobe’s 14-point first quarter was not the start of some glorious, record-shattering night. He has scored more career points (1,603) against the Grizzlies than anyone else in the NBA, and his 60-point game here on March 22, 2007, remains the most points scored against them and the most at FedExForum.

But on Sunday, as the Grizzlies cruised past the Lakers 112-96 – they led by as many as 25 points – Bryant was playing a quarter, then sitting a quarter. A concession to a balky right knee that initially had him taking this game off.

So, if you were hoping for more than 19 points from him, take heart. He almost didn’t play at all.

“Honestly, I wasn’t going to play,” he said. “But I got on the bus and saw all the fans. I would feel really, really awful if I didn’t come in here and play.”

FedExForum was sold out. And presumably not to see a now 5-26 team that has lost to the 76ers and a roster that mostly looks like a traveling Witness Protection Program.

The stands were dotted with gold Lakers jerseys, almost all of which bore Kobe’s name and his No. 24 – or his old No. 8.

After the game, there were few questions put to Kobe about the game. Because really, what’s the point?

So he was asked about having said that Tony Allen has been his toughest defender.

“Long arms. Very athletic,” Bryant said. “And he does his homework. He’s old-school.”

The highest compliment Kobe could give.

And he was asked about Vince Carter, once his teammate on a New Jersey AAU team.

“Probably the best AAU team of all time,” Kobe said, adding of their days playing against each other in the NBA: “We had a nice rivalry. Anytime I played against him, I was adamant about going after him. To see him out there still playing, competing, dunking tonight, I now have a great sense of pride and joy.”

Yeah, it’s a kinder Kobe now. Maybe it has to be.

Asked what today’s retiring NBA Kobe would tell a Rookie Kobe, the once cold-blooded basketball killer we all know said he’d explain about the importance of “compassion and empathy” and how that fits into being a team leader. He told a story about a day many years ago when the Lakers were having a team meeting and Rick Fox told him:

“‘Kobe, we just want to feel like you need us.’ This is a grown-ass man,” Bryant said, laughing a little. “What are you talking about? But it kinda caught me because it was a very vulnerable thing for him to say. It helped me have perspective.”

Listening to him answer questions postgame, a drill he’ll go through 82 times on his Farewell Tour as the Lakers try to squeeze out 20 wins, you couldn’t help feeling that this is his stage now. That his best moments this season will probably come before a microphone and not on the court.

“It’s funny,” he said, “It seems like since I announced (the retirement) the questions have gotten better.”

Maybe they have. Or maybe he’s just not ready for us to stop caring enough to ask them.

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