Undefeated Father Time and the Inevitable Decline of Kobe Bryant

There are defining moments in sports, in entertainment and in life that expose one’s weakness; from that point on, they’re just not the same to you. Similar to the moment when the audience realizes something is satirical, they can no longer take what they’re watching seriously.

Legendary one second, completely mundane the next.

We’ve all seen it, but choose to turn a blind eye to it. For athletes we’ll make up an excuse for them, such as “it was an off-day.” We never like to see athletes and entertainers display their vulnerability as they’re the ones we look to provide an escape from our everyday lives.

On Smackdown this past Friday, the once intimidating Kane was reduced to a filler match against Wade Barrett, a wrestler the average Joe has probably never heard of.

At Wimbledon, the great Roger Federer was up two sets against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before Tsonga came roaring back, upsetting Federer in five sets.

At church this afternoon, I noticed a few changes in the choir. Everyone singing was either a teenager or a young adult except the last holdover from the previous choir, a middle aged woman. She stuck out like a sore-thumb.

Fortunately Kobe hasn’t had that moment where he has let his guard down. Yet.

Beginning with the right index finger injury last season, there have been subtle signs of Kobe’s decline.

In the first round matchup against the Thunder in 2010, he scored 12 and 13 points in back-to-back games; but bounced back by producing typical Kobe numbers in the next three rounds, culminating in his fifth championship.

This past year, Kobe had to work harder than ever to get to his pet spots; he was often visibly frustrated. The playoff snarl was replaced with a look of dismay.

If you asked me what were Kobe’s best moments of the past season (2010-2011), I’d highlight the fall-away jumper against Portland that sealed the game, and the floater he hit over numerous defenders in the triple overtime triumph against the Suns. The problem is both shots were made under heavy defenses, even Kobe himself acknowledged he lost some elevation in an interview with Sports Illustrated.  That in itself is a tell-tale sign of Kobe’s decline.

Merely a season before that (2009-2010) there were a countless amount of Kobe highlights to choose from (just take a look at one of his miraculous buzzer beaters). To be fair, Kobe has refined his game. He now gets his points more efficiently, and he’s not as flashy as he was when he was #8.

Lest we forget, Chris Paul was the best player in the Hornets and Lakers series by a mile. On a specific play in Game 1 (when Paul recorded 33 points, 14 assists and 4 steals), Paul picked Kobe’s pocket from behind while he was dribbling up the court casually. My friend, who watching the game, with noted “Kobe would never lose the ball like that two, three years ago.” I was speechless because I knew it was true. People tend to forget that the Lakers barely outplayed the Hornets in that series.

No one can blame the sweep at the hands of Dallas on Bryant. He did all he could, no one around him stepped up. Case in point: in the decisive Game 4, Kobe scored 15 points in a quarter and a half. Once Coach Rick Carlisle realized this, he adjusted his defense accordingly, and the Lakers were doomed.

Next: The Undefeated Aspect in Sports – Time

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