Kobe Bryant’s Search to Rediscover Self Will Define Success or Failure of Season

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Here he is, having cracked the bone just below his knee as he pulled his shredded foot out of the basketball grave. And all that happened to his good leg.   

Expectations are universally low as Kobe Bryant, 36, begins the controversial two-year, $48 million contract extension that makes him the highest-paid player in the game.   

Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers are being pegged more often as the worst team in the Western Conference than they are being suggested as a playoff qualifier, much less a title threat.

And yet…

With more opportunity than ever for mediocrity to qualify as success more than ever before, the truth about this being some sort of off-Broadway Kobe show is all a masquerade.

Bryant has set his bar so high that he’d better be great—or he’ll be unacceptable.

It’s not just the salary; it’s all that he has said and done since 1996, and how often he has soared to unexpected heights.

No one asked him to score 81, but he did.

No one assumed he would win without Shaq, but he did.

Favorite or underdog, then or now, there is an expectation that he can amaze.

Especially when he shares how much this opportunity—just the squeak of the sneakers, the smell of the leather—means to him now.

“Can’t say I haven’t missed the game,” he said Monday. “I’ve missed it so much.”

He’s tired and worn out and facing an uphill battle, though.

But he’s been tired and worn out and faced an uphill battle many times before, on the court late in games, before putting forth a heck of a charge nonetheless, creating something to see, win or lose.

He has proved masterful at reinventing himself in subtle ways—dating all the way back to when he vacillated minute-by-minute between being Shaquille O’Neal‘s foil and feeder—while remaining the same guy people love or love to hate.

Bryant believes he’s onto something good now with efficiency of both time and movement, anchoring his game in the post, using his heralded will to overachieve mentally instead of physically.

His smarts are what give him a chance still to be surprisingly spectacular.

This is that moment: The signs are everywhere that it’s pretty much over, that only fools would trust that some of the best is still yet to come.

But then…Peyton Manning, post-spinal surgery. The San Antonio Spurs, again and again.

The only chance the old and slow have is to be smarter and sharper. It’s the only hope for meeting those lofty standards again.

And for the guy who has long studied video of not just every make or shot but every single touch, for the guy about whom it was always said that he could make better decisions to make the game easier for himself, therein lies the hope that Bryant still has something truly special.

No one has it forever. It might not ever be as good as Manning setting the new touchdown record. It’s pretty likely the Spurs drop off even as the common refrain is now never, ever to bet against them.

Yet the thing about the greats is that they don’t give up. They fundamentally try harder and longer than is acceptable in our society.

And as long as Bryant isn’t giving up, as long as he is committed to figuring out a way to maintain his standards, don’t be surprised.

On the eve of his 19thNBA season opener, with Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets coming to town, Bryant is speaking of “the challenge of being able to see where we measure up, and see where I measure up physically.”

A small smile creeps across his face. He drops it quickly but finishes the thought, saying: “The question marks are the things that are the most intriguing.”

 

He’s old, but he’s healthy, motivated and challenged. There has been no protective sleeve over his bum right knee this preseason. He has felt spry enough to come out like a latter-day Ron Artest at each opening tip, flying around and trying to set an attacking defensive tone for his undermanned young team.

Perhaps he’s going to try and fail. It has to happen at some point. He shot just 39.6 percent in his six exhibition games.

But fear of failure has never been an issue for Bryant. Just as we all have in watching him, he has enjoyed the show and dealt with the consequences later.

Byron Scott and O’Neal both called Bryant “Showboat” back on those 1996-97 Lakers, and they meant it both for good and for bad. That season ended with Bryant, 18, daring to take clutch shot after clutch shot in Utah, stunningly putting up air balls on five of his last six as the Lakers lost.

If he doesn’t try—and fail in such flaming fashion—he doesn’t learn unequivocally he needs to train better and harder to get stronger for a long NBA season…and for a long NBA career.

Maybe he will fail in flaming fashion. Bryant’s first shot of this preseason was an air ball, too.

But he finished exhibition play declaring himself “very well-balanced, physically” and concluding: “I felt like I could do anything I wanted.”

If he winds up getting more shots blocked than Carlos Boozer and can’t guard any better than Steve Nash would’ve, so be it. Some will laugh and some will cry, because Kobe will have failed.

But at least he will have failed to be Kobe—as opposed to losing faith in himself and no longer shooting for the stars.

Trying and failing to be Kobe will be, bottom line, the most respectable, admirable way to lose it.

And it also happens to be the only way he might just be Kobe for another year or two.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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Self, Weber expected at Wayne McClain funeral

Funeral planned for Wayne McClain; Self and Weber expected to attend

      
 

 

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Bill Self copied Andrew Wiggins’ NBA draft outfit

Who wore it better?

      
 

 

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Bill Self copied Andrew Wiggins’ NBA Draft outfit for ‘Late Night in the Phog’

Who wore it better?

      
 

 

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Bill Self: Andrew Wiggins wants to be traded

CLEVELAND, Oh. — Andrew Wiggins believes Minnesota is better for his long-term development, according to Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self. When trade talk involving Wiggins and Kevin Love began to heat up earlier this summer, the No. 1 overall pick decided to confide in his former coach, telling Self that he believes a trade to Minnesota is the best option for his future. Wiggins took part in Self’s annual summer basketball camp as a guest instructor in Kansas City on Sunday, and declined to speak to reporters. Self on the other hand, couldn’t hold back. “When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, “I hope I get traded,” Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, “Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.” Earlier this week, several news outlets reporte

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Self: Wiggins glad about being traded

The No. 1 overall pick revealed his feelings to Kansas coach Bill Self.

      
 

 

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Self: Wiggins wants to be traded to Minnesota (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - AUGUST 7, 2014: According to reports, the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed to trade Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for first overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-round pick. TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Andrew Wiggins #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins told Kansas coach Bill Self that he wants to be traded from Cleveland to Minnesota because the No. 1 overall pick believes it will be better for his long-term future. Wiggins joined his former coach as a guest instructor at Self’s basketball camp in suburban Kansas City on Sunday. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.” Earlier this week, The Associated Press and several other outlets reported a deal has been reached to send Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick to Minnesota for All-Star forward Kevin Love, who will join LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to form a new ”Big 3” in Cleveland.


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Report: Derrick Rose Looks Like Old Self, Has No Practice Limitations

Derrick Rose may finally be back to full strength again.
The Chicago Bulls point guard is playing 5-on-5 on a “daily basis” and no longer has any practice restrictions, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports.
In fact, the 25-year-old “looks like the old Derrick Rose,” according to a witness.
“The Bulls are emboldened by their options and flexibility heading into the draft and free agency, and the No. 1 reason just happens to be their most important piece of the puzzle: Derrick Rose,” Berger wrote.
“…So much of the Bulls’ future is tied to the former MVP regaining his form and health, but the team’s focus now is getting him some help.”
Rose, who missed all but 10 games last season with a knee injury, is currently in his third year of a five-year, $94.3 million deal. Rose is a three-time NBA All-Star, and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award back in 2011.
There might not be any fancy commercials for “The Return” this time, but people in the windy city would sure love to see Ro

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KU coach Bill Self thinks Wichita St is No. 1 seed (Yahoo Sports)

Kansas head coach Bill Self calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self believes that unbeaten Wichita State deserves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if it beats Missouri State on Saturday and then wins the Missouri Valley tournament.


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The Bill Self Effect: Kansas Coach Makes History with 10th Straight Big 12 Title

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Move over, John Wooden and Adolph Rupp. Kansas and Bill Self are rewriting the history of college basketball.

Here’s a trivia question for you: What coach in a major conference has won the most consecutive league titles in the history of college basketball?

On Monday night, the answer changed.

The fifth-ranked Jayhawks won at least a share of their 10th straight Big 12 title with a 83-75 win over Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse.

Self now has left Wooden and Rupp, who both won nine straight league titles, in his dust on a streak that has no end in sight.

This team, like almost every one Self has coached in Lawrence, was expected to win the title once Andrew Wiggins signed on. But there’s a difference between expectations and achievement most places. 

Just not at Kansas.

“It’s something you know coming in,” freshman Wayne Selden said. “That’s the standard here.”

Still, it shouldn’t have been this easy.

In the year that the Big 12 is considered the best league in the country—good enough to give Marcus Smart’s Oklahoma State Cowboys seven straight losses—the Jayhawks nearly pulled off the equivalent of lapping the field.

With three games left to play, Kansas (13-2 in league play) has a three-and-a-half game lead on second place.

“That’s just a phenomenal accomplishment,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s not like you’re doing that in a bad league.”

No, this was supposed to be the year the league stood up to the Jayhawks.

When Smart decided to return to school, the idea was floated that finally there was a team in the conference that had the talent and the moxie to end this ridiculous run already.

The Cowboys had five starters back. The Jayhawks had zero. 

Sure, Self had the top-ranked freshmen in the country, but Kentucky’s John Calipari had what was thought to be the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball, and that group doesn’t have any rings in its foreseeable future. 

Self has enough to go around. One for every finger. 

“To me in a power conference, to do something where the whole key is consistency, we’ve been so blessed to have good players year in and year out, because we’ve had a lot of turnover,” Self said. “We’ve had guys we knew would leave and guys that left unexpectedly and those guys are hard to replace. “

Self doesn’t exactly start from scratch, because he always has enough veterans around to let the young guys know what’s expected, but this season was the third time during the streak he’s had to start five new players.

His challenge is not much different than what Calipari or Roy Williams face each year. Just his results are.

Since Self started his streak, no power-conference school has won more than six league titles.

*Both Florida and Kentucky are in contention for the 2013-14 SEC title. Here are the current standings.

“It’s a direct reflection of Coach,” former KU point guard Elijah Johnson said before last season’s title No. 9 and might as well have spoken for all 10. “The people who were doing it eight years ago are not doing it now. He’s still there. I feel like that has to mean something. He’s doing something right.

“I just appreciate the fact that he tries to shed the light on us and make it look like it’s us who’s doing it. When all of us know who it really is, the head honcho.”

True to form, Self praised Naadir Tharpe for bringing this one home on Monday night—Tharpe scored 10 of his 19 points in the final 3:15—and also gave his freshmen some credit for being so good so fast.

“Those are three special guys,” Self said of Wiggins, Selden and Joel Embiid. “It’d be crazy to think what these guys could do if you could keep them together for a while, but obviously that probably won’t happen.”

Wiggins had a grin from ear to ear on Monday night—”To win the Big 12 championship, it’s a great feeling,” he said—and Embiid skipped out of the Fieldhouse with his 10 fingers in the air.

Self’s right. It would be crazy to think what would happen if they stuck around for a while. But I bet I know what will happen when they leave. 

More Big 12 Championships. More history.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR. 

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