Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty)

Shaquille O’Neal recently told a fast-talking paparazzo that he’d “heard” Kobe Bryant was coming out of retirement to play with LeBron James and the Lakers. This was almost certainly a joke, but as a pretext for silly-season speculation—and a cucumber season blog from one horrifyingly bored blogger—it’ll do just fine. Kobe is coming back!

What the hell else is Kobe doing, besides offering insight-free commentary in NBA 2K18 and producing deeply insane children’s videos? The degree to which the universe has moved past the fact that Kobe was once credibly accused of rape is appalling—this plus his Oscar win and a largely uncontested post-career campaign of self-mythologizing might have convinced you, a decent and good-hearted person, to wish very sincerely that Kobe would Fuck All The Way Off Forever. I submit that a richer and more rewarding development would be Kobe returning to the NBA as an even more washed 40-year-old, to get roasted by a shockingly deep generation of NBA teens who wildly overrate his status as an all-time great; to destroy forever the goofy innocence of addled Lakers fans; to force Kevin Harlan and Mike Breen to say things like now that’s a possession where you’d really like to get the ball into LeBron’s hands when Kobe hijacks a late-game possession and turns it into an ugly air-balled baseline fadeaway.

If the prospect of a Kobe un-retirement appeals to you in any way, this Instagram comment from Vanessa Bryant will register as troubling news:

Bullshit! Let us not pretend for even a moment that Kobe is spending meaningful time with his family. Impossible to devote much time to the family while the efforts of making sure everyone remembers you exist get more and more demanding by the day. Insane Kobe loyalists might be vandalizing LeBron murals around Los Angeles today, but they’ll be on the LeBron bandwagon the very first time the new black-stripe Lakers throw a regular-season scare into the Warriors on national television, driving Kobe’s ghost that much further from the center of the basketball universe. Just imagine the Sun Tzu sociopathy he’ll have to peddle to the children of YouTube to stay relevant in that inevitable future.

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The Lakers have spent this season collecting mini-Kobe simulacra—inefficient ball-dominant non-shooters like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley. And with Kobe’s former agent, Rob Pelinka, playing a prominent role in the team’s basketball operations, the Lakers couldn’t possibly say no. The stage is set for a dramatic return. Kobe, you coward, return to the NBA and the Lakers and demonstrate once and for all your true basketball immortality.