December 3, 2016

Here’s the Thing: Appreciate greatness while it is still here

There have only been two years in my entire life without either Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant playing professional sports. I cannot remember a time when Kobe was not a Laker, or Manning was not tossing touchdowns to Marvin Harrison or Demaryius Thomas. However after this season, there will be no more Kobe, and it seems like no more Peyton either.

Both of these athletes have been the face of their sport for nearly two decades. Kobe came into the NBA as a teenager with an afro back in 1996. I was two years old. If you do not count the six games that he played in 2013-14, Bryant is averaging the lowest amount of points since his sophomore campaign in the NBA. His shooting percentage, 30 percent, is a full seven percent lower than any year he has played.

Peyton came into the NFL as a 22-year-old fresh out of the University of Tennessee back in 1998. If you do not count the 2011 season when he missed the whole season with a neck injury, this is the first time in Peyton’s career he will not play all 16 games. He has only thrown nine touchdowns on the season, 17 less than any other year. He has thrown 17 interceptions, a total he only reached three times in a whole 16 game season.

This whole season, both Manning and Bryant have been getting criticized for their poor play. I am not saying they have an excuse to play bad, but we need to remember them for their whole career, and not just this season.

Just five years ago, Bryant averaged 28 points a game, good for second in the league. Just two years ago, Manning set the single season record for most touchdowns. It seemed like they could play forever.

The reality is, any athlete’s time is limited in their sport. There will be a day when Tom Brady is no longer playing football. A day is coming even sooner when Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett retire.

The 2015 season that Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning have, will not and should not define who they are as athletes. Kobe is probably the second best shooting guard to ever play the game (I still think Michael Jordan is better). Peyton Manning may be the best regular season quarterback of all time (he just has not had the playoff success to be considered the best of all time).

The world of sports is very much a “what have you done for me recently” atmosphere. Why else would there be talk of firing Les Miles as the head football coach at Louisiana State University, despite winning 77 percent of his games there? Why else was Mark Richt be fired as the head football coach at Georgia, despite going 145-51, and going to 15 straight bowl games?

I can understand this mentality, but it is not fair to the greatness of Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning. I owe both of them for part of the reason I am interested in sports. When it comes to the NBA and the NFL, it is always been Bryant and Manning in my lifetime. When their careers are debated several years down the road, it is unfair to say, “but they had a terrible final season.” It is unfair to minimize their greatness.

Kobe no longer has “the legs” to make jump shots. He does not have any more athleticism. That is the result of nearly 50,000 career minutes played. How can you can use one season in an argument against his greatness? It is because of his greatness and longevity in the league that he no longer has anything left in the tank.

Peyton no longer has the arm strength to make the throws. He does not have the ability to get the ball to the places he wants. That is the result of nearly 10,000 career throws. How can you can use one season in an argument against his greatness? It is because of his greatness and longevity in the league that he no longer has anything left in the tank.

When I look back at the career of Bryant, I will see Kobe ranked third all-times in points scored. I will see him as a two time scoring champion, and a 17-time all-star. I will see him with five NBA Championships.

When I look back at the career of Manning, I will see Peyton ranked first all-time in yards and touchdowns. I will see him as a five time NFL Most Valuable Player, and a 14-time pro bowler. I will see him with one Super Bowl Ring.

I will see their greatness.   

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