by Julian Spivey
Kobe Bryant embarrassed himself in his final game on Wednesday (April 13) and he didn’t even realize it.
I know, I know. This is going to seem like nothing more than a “hater column” and those of you who believe so probably won’t read any further.
But, while most of you saw a storybook Hollywood ending to Kobe Bryant’s 20-year NBA career on Wednesday night when he scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz on 22-for-50 (44 percent) shooting, I saw something that pretty much summed up Bryant’s career for me.
Bryant’s 60-point game last night was the most points ever scored by a player in his final NBA game and was actually the most points scored by any player in the league this season, besting Anthony Davis’ 59-point game by a single point. At 37 years old, Bryant is also the oldest player in league history to ever score 60 points.
While Bryant’s final game is certainly going to remain in the record books, possibly forever, one can’t help but argue how embarrassing it is for him to shoot the ball 50 times to have to do it. If he hadn’t led the Lakers back last second to victory over the Jazz, it would’ve been even more embarrassing.
I understand it was the last game of this legend’s career and fans of his in attendance and watching on television got exactly what they wanted, but it just summed up the entire career, in my opinion, of a guy known as the biggest “ball hog” in NBA history. Bryant’s 50 shots on the evening was 14 more than the next highest number of shots by any player in the league this season and it took Russell Westbrook double overtime just to amass 36 shots. Even more embarrassing for Bryant is his 50 shots in his final game was actually four more field goal attempts than the 46 he took in his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Also embarrassing is the fact that Bryant shot 6-for-21 from beyond the arc in his final game. We all know that Stephen Curry (who hit 10 threes on 19 attempts on Wednesday) could’ve bested that number blindfolded. By the way, it only took Curry 24 shots (making 15 of them) on Wednesday night to score 46 in the Warriors record-setting 73rd win of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies. Curry didn’t even play a second in the fourth quarter either.
Watching Curry and the fantastic team oriented ball of the Warriors on Wednesday, a game more people should’ve watched as it was history in the making (legends honestly retire at a frequent rate – we just saw Peyton Manning and Jeff Gordon do it), just proves to me more why Bryant’s legend and style of basketball might be worse for the game than a boost for it.
Bryant was really the first “me, me, me” superstar in NBA history that wanted to win so badly and be “the guy” that he sometimes harmed his team by taking too many shots and believing he was the only guy to take “the shot.” It was something that really started to affect his team late in his career and has led to something like the team’s 17-65 record in his farewell season because his “me, me, me” attitude, along with the frequent viewpoint that he was a bad teammate, really kept other superstars from wanting to play for maybe the most storied franchise in NBA history. Bryant’s selfish style of play really harmed the NBA for a while as superstars tried to emulate him by doing the same thing and today still somewhat affects the league in a negative fashion *cough* James Harden and Carmelo Anthony *cough*.
NBA fans are seeing the right way to play the game with the dominance of the Golden State Warriors and the continued excellence of the San Antonio Spurs and yet it’s still Kobe Bryant we’re talking about on a night where the Warriors did something that likely will never be bested.
Am I a hater? Maybe. But, I feel that’s actually sad for the game of basketball.
Congratulations to Kobe Bryant on going out the only way he knew how – shooting the ball, a lot. But, when you take 50 shots, 60 points isn’t really as impressive as everyone is making it out to be – even when you’re the old guy on the block. That’s why I think he embarrassed himself in his farewell.
by Eric Fulton
Every year a sports team’s number one goal is to win a championship. No matter what level they are in or where they finished the previous season, winning is the number one goal. In order to get an opportunity to win a championship, a team must qualify for the playoffs. Many teams have had a dynasty that began in the playoffs. Fans who saw these dynasties come to life had high expectations of what would happen to the teams once they got in. The opponents’ goal is to knock them off and end their season. But for the last quarter of a century, there has been one team who has given themselves a chance to compete for one of sports’ biggest prizes every single year.
The Detroit Red Wings is one of the iconic franchises in the National Hockey League (NHL). They are known as one of the “Original Six” teams which include the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. They have won 11 Stanley Cup championships in their history. Iconic players who have worn the red winged wheel include Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Nicklas Lidstorm and Steve Yzerman.
Last Saturday, Detroit clinched its 25th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs even though they lost the regular season finale against the New York Rangers. Thus, the Red Wings have extended the longest playoff run by a professional North American sports team. Each season, Detroit has had talent all around the ice from Pavel Datsuyk to Henrik Zetterberg. They even have a young talent named Dylan Larkin, who has been one of the best rookies in the NHL this season. What’s more impressive about the Red Wings streak this year is they had a first year NHL coach in Jeff Blashill.
The Red Wings have accomplished what no other team has during a 25-year playoff run. Even though, they have only won the Stanley Cup four times in the previous 24 years, they have still found ways to get in the playoffs and play for hockey’s ultimate prize every year. What’s even more impressive is they have made the playoffs every year in both Eastern and Western Conferences. They have become the model of consistency and excellence in the last quarter century. Whether you are a fan of the Red Wings or not, you have to give them credit for making the playoffs and having the right kind of personnel to become a serious championship contender.
Though things have been rough for the city of Detroit in recent years, at least they are happy to see a hockey team with such grit, poise, determination and success in at least providing a winning product the city can enjoy.
The Red Wings will begin the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday (April 13) when they take on last year’s Eastern Conference Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of last year’s first round series won by the Lightning. No matter what happens with Detroit, they have given themselves a chance to win a title for the 25th straight season and that’s one of the greatest and most underrated records in sports.
by Eric Fulton
Perhaps no sports figure in the last 20 years has grabbed our attention more than Kobe Bryant. Whether you cheer for or against him, he didn’t care what you thought about him or his game. He cared about just one thing: winning. Bryant was the one guy everyone didn’t like to play with or against, but everyone respected because he was an incredible player.
It is hard to believe Bryant has played 20 years in the NBA, which is remarkable. It is even harder to believe he has done it with one team. It is special because no one else in the league has done it. Tim Duncan will likely be the next one to do it with San Antonio next year. I know it has been a hard time the last couple of years for Bryant with the Lakers being in the lottery for the No. 1 draft pick instead of competing in the playoffs. The great thing is we, as sports fans, get one more look at an all-time great playing his final game in the shadows of Hollywood tonight when the Lakers finish the season at home against the Utah Jazz at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft. Shortly after, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac, one of the most lopsided trades in league history. Obviously if the Hornets kept Bryant it would definitely have altered the history of the NBA for the next two decades. The Lakers were rebuilding after the Magic Johnson era came to an end. Then general manager Jerry West pulled perhaps the best trade in the mid/late ’90s by acquiring a young Bryant, who was drafted out of high school, a trend that would continue to go on for the next decade for those who wanted to skip college and go straight to the pros.
Bryant was thriving but struggling early in his career. He and the Lakers knew they needed to add another that would make it unstoppable. That’s when Shaquille O’Neal came into the picture and the dynamic duo became a powerful force. Shaq and Kobe, combined with an already legendary coach in Phil Jackson, would form an outstanding trio in the early 2000s helping the Lakers win three straight NBA championships.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon would not last long. Kobe and Shaq did not get along and the duo would end their time together with O’Neal heading to Miami to help another great talent Dwayne Wade win a championship of his own. Meanwhile, Bryant was creating things on his own. Remember that memorable Sunday in the 2006 season in which he scored an incredible 81 points? No, it was not the all-time scoring record for points in one game, but for most of us who never saw Wilt Chamberlain score 100, this was our moment to witness greatness.
Later in his career, Kobe would win two more titles with a different cast of players like Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. But he would outlast them all in a Lakers uniform. Even the experiment of having Dwight Howard joining the Lakers was a huge failure. Howard was never like Shaq in the way in which he wanted to win. Kobe always wanted to win. He went to extreme lengths to do it. I am positive it rubbed a ton of people the wrong way, but sometimes you do whatever is necessary to make sure you are one of the best ever. That’s what Kobe Bryant is -- truly one of the best players of all time. He has the resume to prove it:
It is one of the best careers not only in basketball history, but in sports history as well. There are other great players in the NBA right now (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant just to name a few), however, most of those don’t have the resume Bryant does (at least not yet anyway). But perhaps the unique thing about Bryant’s aura is he does not care whether you love or hate him. He wanted to win plain and simple. The basketball world will never be the same after Bryant plays his final game. I really hope, as does everyone else, that he puts on one final performance. It would be awesome just to shoot the game winning shot one more time. That would be the ultimate story-book ending for Bryant. Believe me when I say this -- he will do whatever it takes to make that happen.
by Julian Spivey
None of us could believe our eyes when we sat their watching with our mouths fully agape on Sunday (April 10) as Jordan Spieth completely collapsed while in full control of the 2016 Masters Tournament and well on his way to back-to-back Masters titles at only 22-years old.
Spieth let the hidden demons of the early portion of Augusta’s back nine get to him as he blew a five stroke lead in just three holes and quickly found himself three strokes behind the lead after a “Tin Cup”-esque performance on the par-3 12th hole saw him drop two consecutive shots in the drink and end up with a quadruple bogey. This quad bogey followed back-to-back bogeys on holes 10 and 11 after Spieth birdied the final four holes on the front nine to take a commanding, seemingly insurmountable lead to the back nine.
Many during the telecast and on social media quickly invoked the collapse of Greg Norman 20 years ago at the 1996 Masters, typically hailed as the biggest choke in tournament and even major golf history, when he took a six stroke lead into the final round and wound up losing the tournament to Nick Faldo, the only Englishman to win the Masters (he won it three times). That is until Danny Willett, a Brit, found himself in the lead out of nowhere while he played the 15th hole after Spieth’s meltdown. Willett played a flawless round of golf without a making a single bogey and went from even-par to a tournament winning 5-under on the day. Spieth tried to regain control of his game and make a run with six holes remaining after his horrid 12th hole, but he would end up finishing runner-up in the tournament for the second time in three years. His average finish at the Masters is a ridiculous 1.7.
People were comparing Spieth’s collapse to that of Norman’s 20 years before. While Norman had a six stroke lead entering the final round and Spieth only had a one-stroke lead going into Sunday I can’t help but believe that Spieth’s choke is actually worse than Norman’s. You see Norman blew much of his lead that day on the first nine holes and took only a two-stroke lead into the back nine. Spieth took a five shot lead into the back nine. Two strokes in a major golf tournament doesn’t seem like that much, but five should honestly be insurmountable. The fact that Spieth essentially gave his tournament away on a single hole also adds to the biggest choke factor.
People on social media Sunday were somewhat overkill in their feelings for Spieth’s loss. We should feel bad for him. He just suffered one of the most devastating and heartbreaking moments we’ve ever seen in a major golf tournament, but he handled it like a champ in the post event interviews and through the tradition of the past year’s winner putting the green jacket on the newest winner, which he did so with a truly heart-wrenching look on his face. But, Spieth is a 22-year old who’s already the best golfer in America and one of the two or three best in the world. This is going to hurt him for a while, but he’ll be back at the top of his game soon, I’m certain.
And there’s always a bright side to every story. Champion Danny Willett, who many in America seemingly didn’t know before Sunday despite the fact he entered the tournament ranked 12th in the world rankings, wasn’t even planning on competing in the Masters this year despite being eligible. His wife Nicole was supposed to give birth to the couple’s son on April 10, the final day of the Masters, but when she gave birth 10 days early it freed Willett up to play the event. So, Willett owes his career moment to his wife and son, Zachariah, as much as he does to Spieth and Golden Bell (the name given to the 12th hole at Augusta).
Spieth’s collapse was heartbreaking and likely the biggest the game has ever seen and many commentators are saying it’s what this year’s Masters will be most known for years in the future. That’s likely, but the story of how Willett got to the tournament and then won it is also something we shouldn’t forget.