For so many years, we’ve all had the luxury of enjoying the spectacle that is watching Kobe Bryant play basketball.
From five NBA Championships to countless MVP-worthy campaigns, Bryant has carved a niche for himself in basketball history as one of the greatest to ever step foot on the hardwood. But what happens when his body has taken enough punishment and he decides to hang up his sneakers?
Will he ride off into the sunset and live out the rest of his life from the comfort of his Lazy Boy? Will he travel the world and use his name and stature to help spread the word for some righteous cause? Or will he suit up and strut his stuff up and down the sidelines as an NBA head coach?
This question didn’t seem relevant until a few days ago, when Bryant sat out his second game of the 2011-12 season while nursing an injured shin. While sitting suit-clad on the sidelines, Bryant routinely got up to participate in team huddles and spread his endless basketball IQ among his teammates. The end result: a victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
Yes, the win came against the worst-in-the-West Hornets. Yes, the Lakers won by just two points despite a dimwitted pass by Ron Metta World Peace in the closing seconds. Yes, Kobe was just being Kobe and doing what he could to help his team.
Despite all of those things, Bryant’s involvement with his coaches and teammates during timeouts looked natural. He didn’t hesitate when giving his fellow Lakers pointers and seemed eager to be involved. By all appearances, he was an assistant coach. Not to mention, the man looks great in a suit.
So does Bryant have a future as a head coach or will his claim to fame in the NBA strictly be as a player? Personally, I think he’d be a terrific NBA head honcho.
What would make Bryant a great candidate as an NBA head coach is his unparalleled knowledge and experience as a player. When there’s a coach who has been everywhere and done everything like Bryant has, no player, no matter how arrogant, is going to talk back or act like they know better. Do you think baseball players used to tell Babe Ruth how to hit home runs? Any chance tech-heads try giving Mark Zuckerberg tips on how to create a great social media network? I don’t think so.
When a coach demands respect from his players, they get the best out of their entire team. And with the ego and résumé that Bryant boasts, respect is the only acceptable currency. With a coach possessing Bryant-like leadership and moxy at the helm, the whole Andrew Bynum fiasco would never have shrouded L.A. in storm clouds.
Now some may cite Bryant’s “me first” attitude as something that could hinder his abilities as a head coach, but rest assured, that mindset wouldn’t translate over.
Players of Bryant’s caliber play with a certain swagger, and rightfully so. When you’ve spent your entire NBA career dominating and doing things that seem near impossible for 99 percent of all other players, it’s acceptable. That, however, doesn’t mean that this warranted arrogance will carry over when he trades in that No. 24 jersey for a suit. Coaching is a whole different beast, and Bryant’s ego would evolve during the transition into a cool confidence that demands respect. He may be a ball hog now, but his leadership skills would do wonders to mold an NBA team into annual contenders.
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All other arguments aside, what gives me reason to believe that Bryant would make a great NBA head coach is the fact that he spent the majority of his career as the star pupil to the greatest coach in league history: Phil Jackson.
Learning under the Zen Master for 11 years can have profound effects on a player’s ability to understand the game and all of its inner-workings. Combine that with Bryant’s outstanding basketball IQ and commanding presence as a leader, and you’ve got a player with a bright future as an NBA head coach.
There is, however, one thing that would concern me about Bryant as an NBA head coach: his personnel decisions.
Since he became the Lakers’ outspoken leader, Bryant has made a habit of letting the media dictate who he wants the team to acquire. When the blogosphere was all abuzz about the Lakers landing Dwight Howard, Bryant was one of the biggest proponents of bringing the big man to L.A. When Lamar Odom parted ways with the Dallas Mavericks earlier this week, Bryant publicly proclaimed that he thought the Lakers should get him back. The same went for Derek Fisher when the Houston Rockets bought him out earlier this season. It seems like whenever the world wants someone to join (or rejoin) the Lakers, Bryant is not far behind in offering his support.
Then again, that’s why personnel decisions are usually put on the General Manager’s (or Jim Buss’) plate.
Throughout the league’s history, several other former NBA greats have taken their talents to the head coaching ranks in hopes of furthering their involvement in the game. The results, however, have been mixed.
When former star Magic Johnson took control of the Lakers near the end of the 1993-94 season, little went right. The Lakers lost five of their first six games with Johnson at the helm, leading to his resignation at the end of the season. Through 16 total games, he managed a record of 5-11.
Another name that comes to mind is legendary Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird, whose time as an NBA coach yielded much better results than Johnson’s. Throughout three seasons as the head coach for the Indiana Pacers, he tallied a record of 147-67. During that time, he led the Pacers to three playoff appearances, including a trip to the 2000 NBA Finals, where he lost to Bryant’s Lakers.
Even current Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who was a one-time All-Star during his playing days, has had considerable success as an NBA head coach.
Although it’s unlikely that Bryant’s NBA career will come to an end sometime soon, the prospect of watching him stride up and down the Staples Center sidelines as a head coach is intriguing. Whether or not he eventually chooses to follow that path, however, is yet to be determined.
Until then, we’ll enjoy watching the Black Mamba continue to impose his will on any NBA defense that dares stand in his way.