The NBA released the latest installment in its 2013 "Big" ad campaign today: Forever Kobe.
The ad memorializes the time Kobe rained fresh hell on Todd McCullough during the 2002 NBA Finals, which ended in his and Shaq's third championship in a row.
And it follows a similar spot commemorating Dirk Nowitzki's victory over the Heat in 2011.
Dirk and Kobe aren't irrelevant yet. Kobe averaged 27 points and six assists a game this season; Dirk, despite struggling with injuries through most of the season, managed to keep his relatively untalented Mavericks in the playoff race until fairly late in the process.
But these ads (both very well-made, incidentally) also come at crucial junctures in two careers that could be reaching their twilight. Kobe is 34 and needs to come back from an injury that has crippled old players before him; Dirk is 34 and discussing taking a pay cut to bring in high-profile free agents, a move that acknowledges he needs help. Considering the precipices these guys stand over, the NBA's decision to commemorate their pasts seems like a push out the door — if Kobe's still dunking over dudes in 2013, and Dirk's still draining those physics-defying fade-aways, then why are we looking to history for examples?
The funny part is that the guys it must gall the most are Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. The notion that it's all over must KILL the ultra-competitive Kobe right now. Dirk doesn't make as much of an outward big deal as Kobe about winning-is-everything stuff, but you don't grind your way to the free throw line 10 times in 39 minutes against the Clippers in March with, at best, a playoff eighth-seed on the line if you don't still have some intensity left in you.
The NBA could easily make a gauzy commercial about LeBron or Tim Duncan, who both have more than enough past highlights to choose from. But the league doesn't need hagiography to remind us about LeBron and Duncan — they're still playing. At the moment, Kobe and Dirk are more useful to basketball for what they once were than what they are.