Ever since he put pen to paper back in late November, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have been criticized for the two-year, $48.5 million contract extension that the Black Mamba signed.
Some have said that Bryant is no longer worth that kind of dough, while others have complained about how much cap space the five-time NBA champion’s will eat up over the next two years.
For Lakers president and governor, Jeanie Buss, taking care of Kobe and allowing him to finish his career as a member of the purple and gold was of the upmost importance.
“First of all, I’m confident that he’ll come back. People had told me that it would take a year before he would be able to play. He tried to come back what I felt was a little too soon, but only he could really decide whether he was ready or not,” Buss said last week during a sit-down interview with Bill Macdonald from Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “I won’t fault him for trying to come back when he was wanting to help his team. But I do believe he will contribute at the same level Kobe’s always contributed to the success of the Lakers.
“The second thing that I want to point out about that is, I won’t get sad here, but … we never got an opportunity to do the farewell tour for Magic Johnson. We’d lost in the Finals in ’91 to the Chicago Bulls and it was the beginning of the Magic-Michael rivalry and everyone was so eager to see the rematch and see what the Lakers come back with and see if we can get back the title. And, unfortunately, he had to retire that November and we never got that opportunity. Sure, Earvin ended up coming back later but it was never the same. We didn’t get a chance to finish his career the way it should’ve been.”
One thing is clear: A large portion of the Lakers’ motivation to get a deal done was so that Kobe would retire as a Laker.
“Kobe, by signing that deal, will have played twenty years for one organization, and I guarantee you that won’t ever happen again just because he was drafted when he was seventeen – we don’t draft players at seventeen anymore. So, to have the kind of longevity that he’s had makes it extremely special and I think that Laker fans understand that,” Buss said. “I think that too much attention is being paid to salary cap and all that kind of stuff – which is important and that’s the rules we have to operate in – but can’t we just talk about the players and the team and how a basketball team comes together and not focus on slotting and cap space? That stuff, to me – I don’t wear a hat and a t-shirt with ‘Cap Space’ on it. It doesn’t seem like a warm, cuddly thing. I’m more interested in the players and how the players fit together and the players coming together and creating something bigger than just the sum of their parts.”
While her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, may not have decided to describe cap space as a “warm, cuddly thing,” he too would agree that some things are more important than how much of your salary cap is being allocated to one player.
Dr. Buss was an owner who looked after his own. One of example of this was the unprecedented 25-year, $25 million deal he gave to Magic Johnson back in 1981. He knew how important it was to treat your star players well, and he would’ve wanted the same for – what could turn out to be – Kobe’s final contract in the NBA.
Plus, it would be foolish to think that Dr. Buss and his children wouldn’t have discussed Kobe’s pending contract extension over the years before he passed in early 2013.
“To have Kobe retire as a Laker,” Buss said, “that to me is really important and I’m thrilled.”