For the first time this season, Kobe Bryant looked like at least some semblance of his old self in the Lakers’ Friday night win over the Nets, their first victory of the year. And even then, it was only in flashes. As he plays what is likely to be his final season, Bryant’s every game has been picked apart—mostly for negative reasons. He’s airballing threes now, struggling to even hit rim on shots he used to drain regularly. And he’s well aware that he’s being scrutinized in a way none of his peers are.
As Bryant begins what appears in every way to be his farewell tour, the truth becomes clearer and clearer to him. He isn’t chasing the playoffs, nor a championship. Kobe Bryant is chasing a ghost.
“I get held to much higher standards than most of my peers,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on his walk out of the Barclays Center. “If I have a bad shooting night, it’s, ‘He’s in the grave. He’s in the coffin.’ Look around the league, and other players have bad shooting nights – and it’s just a bad shooting night.
“But the expectations that they have for me, they’re actually something that I appreciate. Achilles injury. Fractured knee. Torn shoulder. Twentieth year in the league. Thirty-seven years old. All that, and the expectations are that I average 30 points.
“But I appreciate those standards, because it’s something that still pushes me, still drives me.”
He laughs and nods in agreement with himself.
“Let’s see what I can do,” Bryant said.
Bryant is right that he’s held to a different standard than his peers, but almost nobody expects him to score 30 points a night anymore. With three consecutive season-ending injuries, those days are clearly behind him. At this point, on what has become his de facto farewell tour, most people would settle for Bryant just looking respectable on a nightly basis. So far, that’s been hard to come by, and it’s sad to watch.