With each tick of the clock passing by, Kobe Bryant's NBA career is slowly reaching it's final seconds. For most of his career, he and his Los Angeles Lakers have dominated the basketball scene in California, winning five NBA championships during his 20-year career.
In recent years, however, the Golden State Warriors have become the most talked about team in California, unseating the Lakers – and even the Los Angeles Clippers – in that regard. Coming off an NBA championship last season and being on their way to the best regular season in history this year, the Warriors are essentially the class of the NBA.
Entering their game this afternoon, the Lakers and Warriors are literally on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Lakers (12-51) currently own the worst record in the Western Conference (second worst in the NBA) while the Warriors (55-5) own the best record in the league.
As noted by Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com, a Warriors victory today would be just the second time the team has swept a season series from the Lakers during the 54 years both teams have been in California. The last time it happened was in 1999.
In 1999, reigning – and likely repeat – NBA MVP Stephen Curry was 11 years old. At the time, he was watching his father Dell Curry light up defenders with his league-leading .476 shooting from beyond the arc during a 42-game stint with the Milwaukee Bucks.
But he also watched Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and company creating a dynasty that is still talked about today.
“We watched all their games on national TV,” Stephen Curry tells CSN Bay Area about watching the Lakers during his childhood. “We knew when they were on TV. We didn’t get to stay up late on weeknights to watch the games, but that was the only time we might have missed them.”
Drafted as the seventh overall pick the 2009 draft, Curry and his Warriors were mere spectators as Bryant and the Lakers added one more to their history during the 2009-10 season.
“It’s just a different vibe,” Curry said about his first few seasons playing the Lakers. “The lights were different. Back then, that was when they were in the middle of their championship era. It was just a different vibe for sure."
Fast forward six years, Curry and the Warriors are now in a similar spot to the Lakers, drawing prime-time ratings – such as their historic game against the Thunder one week ago – while Bryant dribbles out the remainder of his career.
Curry, 27, is averaging a league-leading 30.7 points while contributing 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game this season. Incredibly, he also leads the league in three-pointers made (293), field goals made (589) and is shooting .514 percent from the court while averaging just 33.9 minutes per game.
The success of Curry's long-range shooting has been so mind-boggling, Bryant put forth a riddle to try and describe it last year.
In the same way watching Curry shoot has become must-see television, the Lakers were the NBA's main draw for a long time as Bryant's ferocious, win at all costs demeanor attracted a legion of fans.
After missing the Lakers' game on Friday versus the Toronto Raptors, Bryant may not even play on Sunday as he deals with a sore shoulder. He may not even be on the bench as Lakers coach Byron Scott told NBA.com after Friday's loss that “a lot of times he [Bryant] stays home to get treatment.”
However, it's likely a safe bet that, at the very least, Bryant is on the bench for this game to watch the Lakers attempt to hand the Warriors their sixth loss of the season. Players like D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are the hopeful future superstars of the Lakers, making them focal points for years to come.
With their innate three-point shooting and tenacity to outscore opponents, the Warriors will likely dominate not just California, but the Western Conference and the NBA as a whole for years to come. But, some believe the Lakers are going through a mere rough patch – something that'll straighten itself out over time.
“It’ll always be a Laker town,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told CSNBayArea.com. “The Lakers brand is just embedded in that city. They’ve won so many titles. This is just a down period for them. The Clippers obviously have the better team, and they’ve got a lot of fans, too, but that’ll always be a Lakers town.”