All-star weekend Kobe Bryant’s biggest goodbye:...
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Feb 12, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

All-star weekend Kobe Bryant’s biggest goodbye: Arthur

All-star weekend in Toronto is Kobe’s final big-stage turn, and he arrives with an old man’s body, full of aches and pains


Kobe Bryant emerged from behind a curtain, dressed for a show. But he didn’t stop for the media, not yet. He kept on walking.

“You guys gotta wait,” said Bryant, in his black turtleneck and grey collared coat. “Because at this age, I can’t hold my pee anymore.”

Welcome to the big goodbye: not the final one, but the biggest one. NBA all-star weekend in Toronto is Kobe’s final big-stage turn, and he arrives with an old man’s body, full of aches and pains. The Los Angeles Lakers icon says he will not even try for the game MVP Sunday night. Not anymore.

“I’d tell you . . . I’ve never been one to really pull punches,” says Bryant, 37, who will retire at season’s end. “But really, I’ve just been enjoying this whole thing, man. Being around these players and talking to them one more time and going out practicing, enjoying that moment, enjoying the game. So that competitiveness of me trying to prove something: That’s gone, man. That’s gone.”

It’s strange, this spectacle of Kobe at peace. He spent the first 19 years raging against the universe, trying to kill, unwilling to bend. It’s what defined him, as much as the scoring titles and the five championships and the piles of statistical accomplishments.

Now, peace. Everyone is sharing Kobe memories, when they’re not asking, as Anthony Davis apparently did, “Is every question going to be about Kobe?” Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George was telling the story of his first game against Kobe, and how he faked the legend into the air and scored. Big moment.

“So down on the other end Kobe gets me in the air, scores, and comes back down saying to (Brian) Shaw, ‘Check him for feathers, check him for feathers.’ So that was my first time having that moment with Kobe.

“He’s made such a big impact in this game, especially for guys like me: he’s the reason I play this game the way I play it. He was just fearless, he was a champion, he got that understanding to get where you want to go, work ethic is the thing, and that’s the reason he’s been so good. I think it’s simple for Kobe. It comes down to him being the best, to being an alpha male.”

But he’s not an alpha here, anymore.

“I think it’s finally sunk in that he can’t play at that level anymore,” says Shaw, Kobe’s former teammate now an assistant coach with the Lakers.

Shaw has seen more of the journey than most, and in the shiny haze of the retirement tour, he remembers the less gauzy times, the things people eventually forgot. When Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal were trying to win their fourth title as Kobe was on trial in Colorado for sexual assault in 2004 — and after Kobe told investigators in an Eagle, Colo., parking lot Shaq had paid women to keep quiet after sexual liaisons, which Shaq later said broke up his marriage — Shaw was called in to broker a compromise before it got violent. Kobe had called Shaq fat, criticized him in many ways, and then, that. Shaq had told teammates, “I’m going to kill him.”

“Some of the players actually called me, and then Phil (Jackson) and Mitch Kupchak called me and asked me to come down, because it was the year Gary Payton and Karl Malone had come to the team, and Shaq and Kobe were really, really feuding,” says Shaw. “And they felt like I was going to be the guy that was going to be able to get them together and on the same page of this final season with those other two legends. So we just got together in a room, and I had some reinforcements in case things got physical.”

The reinforcements were Malone, Horace Grant and Payton — both for their stature in the game and in the room. “Because,” Shaw says, “if Shaq had actually went after Kobe, I wouldn’t have been able to hold him back.”

Kobe and Shaq sat at opposite ends of the room, and they came to a tenuous agreement. It fell apart with Kobe breaking the triangle offence in a five-game NBA final loss to Detroit, and Shaq leaving L.A.

Kobe settled the case, which included an apology to the woman and her family — “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” It was, even then, extraordinary, before it was buried by the years.

And in basketball, he and Shaq eventually found a peace.

“If they were able to get along from the beginning, you know, who knows how many championships they would have won?” says Shaw. “That was the best 1-2 punch that I’ve ever seen.”

We all have regrets, some bigger than others, until it’s too late to do anything about it. No, this is the end of the big stage, of railing against the universe, because as he puts it now, “I’m old as hell.”

Kobe Bryant, all-star, the end.

Toronto Star

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