Kobe Bryant and the NBA's Youth Movement
The National Basketball Association (NBA) holds its annual player draft every June, ensuring that new faces and new talent will pervade the league year after year. It seems that the superstars drafted in the 1990s are all beginning to fade in favor of younger versions of themselves with fresher bodies.
Allen Iverson (#1 overall pick, 1996 draft) has seen 27-year-old Gilbert Arenas take over his crown as the elite scoring point guard in the league. Likewise, fourth-year-pro Chris Paul has taken the reins of the pure point guard in the league from the hands of 32-year-old Chauncey Billups. Realistically, Dwight Howard has overtaken Shaquille O'Neal.
Dwyane Wade. Carmelo Anthony. LeBron James. All three have been said to be the best players in the NBA, and while yet other youthful names may be brought into the discussion, it is clear that the young takeover of the Association has not led to any changing of the guard at the very top: Kobe Bryant is the old man that the kids can't beat.
Bryant's fourth NBA championship, coming in his 13th season in the league, did not come without concerns over the high mileage his young 30-year-old frame had already sustained. However, Bryant silenced doubters by rolling straight over 25-year-old shooting guard Anthony in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals, where his Los Angeles Lakers would bring the 23-year-old center Howard down to Earth. The almost universal consensus at the outset of the playoffs was that Bryant would be faced by a more physically-gifted, dominant player in the NBA Finals in Cleveland Cavalier shooting guard James. However, the 24-year-old nicknamed "The King" fell short of the Finals, losing in six games to the same Magic Kobe's Lakers defeated in five.
Though some may argue that the veteran Bryant has grabbed four NBA rings only with the help of great supporting casts, his abilities to perform in clutch situations, score at will, and singlehandedly lead a team (quite vocally at times) make it impossible to diminish the enormity of his accomplishments. He won championships in his fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons in the league, while the overhyped James has won none in his first six campaigns, getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in his only Finals appearance. As impossible as many see it to compare anyone to the acclaimed Michael Jordan, even Bryant, the six championships set Jordan apart in history and display his dominance. Therefore, if Bryant has four (and six appearances), and James has none, how can LeBron or any other player in the league today be considered to be on Bryant's level?
An Olympic gold medalist, perennial All-Star, All-NBA Defensive First-Teamer, and elite scorer, Kobe Bryant seems to be the one player who is able to transcend time and dominate competition, begging the question: when will the kids catch up?