It’s been a torrid start to the 2015-16 season for the Los Angeles Lakers. As of 23rd of December, they have won five and lost twenty-three games, with only the Philadelphia 76ers worse off. The NBA’s most successful team risk finishing off worse than last year’s 21-61 season, the worst in its history. Despite several shortcomings, attention has focused primarily on the form of Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, 2008 MVP and third-highest all-time NBA scorer. The internet is awash with articles and blogs with click-baiting headlines such as ‘Kobe Bryant is Statistically the Worst Rotation Player in the NBA’ and ‘Kobe Bryant on course for worst shooting season in NBA for 55 years’. Since these articles were written, Kobe’s form has improved considerably. Against Houston last week, for example, Bryant scored 22 points off 56% shooting, whilst two days earlier he again 22 points, shot efficiently, made six assists and led the team to a rare victory over Milwaukee. Last night, a vintage performance saw Kobe score 31 points and lead the Lakers to a 111-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Whilst the criticism is not unfounded, Bryant deserves to be treated with far more respect and admiration than he is currently being afforded in the press. After all, the 6 ft 6 guard is undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all time, arguably in the top five, and in my mind has earned the right to finish his career in the manner that he wishes. Of course, the counterargument would run that his form is detrimental to the team. Indeed, last season, Lakers were often at their best (which doesn’t say much), when Kobe was injured.

The nature of the NBA however negates this point of view. Without relegation, or qualification for international competition as in European Football, there is little risk in a poor season. The draft means that finishing bottom is arguably better than ending just outside the playoffs. With the Lakers nowhere near playoff contention, the season has turned into a farewell procession for one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. Whilst no competitive sports team should aspire to mediocrity, there is no long-term harm in allowing Bryant to shine (or attempt to shine) in his final season.

Many commentators have stated that Bryant should have retired already. Yet whilst he clearly lacks the athleticism and physicality that drove him in his heyday, he is still an extremely competitive sportsman. Thus he is a highly beneficial character to have in the locker room. The Lakers possess a young roster, and big things are expected of recent draft picks D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, who have all shown some promise so far. There is nobody better to learn from than Kobe Bryant, something that the youngsters have spoken of. The Lakers’ young contingent will earn valuable experience in an unpressurised situation and have the opportunity to study an all-time great. When he retires, the Lakers will be able to spend a large amount on acquiring a superstar. Kobe’s presence is buying time for the rest of the team to gel before a big name arrives. Hopefully, a genuine superstar will play alongside Russell, Clarkson, Randle and Roy Hibbert in what could be a very strong team in the future.

The treatment of Kobe Bryant in certain sections of the media is not dissimilar to that of Tiger Woods. In all sports, legends can become laughing stock almost overnight. Between 1997 and 2007, Tiger Woods won 14 major championships, an astonishing feat. Almost every golf fan was certain that Woods would beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.

An unfortunate series of events in his personal life, numerous injuries and swing changes means golf’s most recognisable figure has struggled of late. After missing four out of six major cuts between 2014 and 2015, several journalists criticised Woods, with some even suggesting it is time Woods retires. This is lamentable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is not too long ago, the 2013 season to be precise, that Woods won five tournaments in a season, finished tied fourth and sixth in the Masters and British Open, and won the PGA Player of the Year award. Despite severe injuries since then, there is no question that Woods has the potential to return to that level in the near future. Secondly, the sport is far more exciting and watchable when Woods is on the course. Thirdly, who are we to tell one of the all-time greatest sportsmen when to retire? Unlike basketball and football, golf is an individual game. An individual owes no allegiance to a group of fans or teammates. He or she can continue to play as long as is feasible. Woods is an astounding competitor, for whom winning is the only goal. He should be admired to giving it all despite injury and form issues, rather than being derided for not hitting the same heights as earlier in his career. Woods turns 40 on the 30th of December. Phil Mickelson, Woods’ greatest rival, has to date won two majors in his forties. Rather than retire, I hope Woods returns to the heights of earlier career.

In almost every sport, legends who pass their sell-by date, at least in the eyes of the public, become laughing stocks as frequently as they are lauded. Steven Gerrard’s final season at Liverpool is yet another example. Despite several pundits, bloggers and journalists highlighting Kobe Bryant’s unfortunate form this year, fans across America have flocked to every stadium in which he plays his final game in what has become a farewell tour for one of basketball’s greatest players. While sport should not be reduced to pantomime, Bryant deserves the adulation he has received from basketball fans across the country, rather than the disrespect of many in the media. Here’s hoping that Bryant’s final season will end with a much-deserved NBA All-Star appearance and an Olympic Gold in Rio.