Kobe Bryant: Why the Los Angeles Lakers Star Is Most Polarizing Figure in NBA

Kwame Fisher-JonesContributor IIIFebruary 9, 2012

Every NBA decade has been defined by one player and his dominance over his peers. The '70s had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The '80s had Magic Johnson and the '90s belonged to Michael Jordan. The new millennium has belonged to Kobe Bryant, and the truth is no one else is even close.

The definition of greatness is consistency. Kobe Bean Bryant has been consistently great and in the process, no other player has been loved or loathed more. There seems to be no middle ground when discussing No. 24. The pride people feel in dissing the fifth all-time leading scorer in league history is nothing short of astonishing. Conversely, his defenders are malicious and tenacious in being heard.

Few players of Bryant’s caliber have experienced the extreme backlash and diehard support for their success, which begs the question: Why? What has the guard done to be so hated or hailed?         

Now some would say Bryant has not been greatly detested from arena to arena; those individuals are called blind. LeBron James may be the only other superstar to have experienced the amount of vile and putrid comments similar to the Bean's, but he is voided of the same type of unparalleled success
as the Los Angeles Lakers guard.

Success has a way of breeding contempt, which explains some of the hatred considering the Lakers' success has to come at the expense of someone’s favorite team. Yet, what is the real reason so many hate Bryant? What is the real reason so many feel obligated to spew at Bryant? For every Kobe fan there are 60 other fans who really, really, really, really hate him. These fans feel their duties as Americans are unfulfilled if they do not tell the world about their disdain for No. 24, but why?

The emotion that comes about whenever Kobe’s name is mentioned did not just begin it has always been present. To most his brashness is too frequent to bare. Even as a rookie in the 1996-1997 NBA playoffs against the Utah Jazz, the rook had the audacity to believe he should shoot instead of passing to Eddie Jones in the corner. What rookie or first-year player has the testicular fortitude to believe they are equipped for such a huge moment?

The great ones do and only the great ones. Only the special believe they are special and this is why Bryant is so polarizing. It is this steadfast belief that he and only he can lead his troops to victory.

Could the emotion felt for the Lakers guard come from the success he has achieved or simply his gall to believe?

There has been an abundance of shoguns who have graced the court prior to Bryant, but few have mastered their craft to the level of the Bean. Those select few who have reached that level also managed to hold a higher rank in the court of public opinion. It seems pundits and fans alike go
to great lengths to put Bryant in his proper place among other greats, as if we have seen talent of his ilk on a frequent basis.

So much emphasis has been placed on what type of personality Kobe may or may not have that it has overshadowed in the eyes of many just how unbelievably live he actually is. This in conjunction with the Michael Jordan comparisons has created an atmosphere of unjustifiable contempt for the Lakers guard. There are websites with billboard threads over the thousands about whether Bryant is overrated.

It is difficult to have a debate with someone who hates Bryant. Take a moment and ask someone who hates Kobe or feels he is overrated and ask them why? Ask them to explain why they feel so strongly that he is not among one of the all-time greats. 

Give them a moment and be respectful. You will soon get answers that have nothing to do with basketball.

"He is arrogant, too cocky and he is spoiled" will be some of the more popular responses. This is what causes the animated basketball debates when discussing this topic. The criticism is out of bounds, therefore the defense is out of bounds.

Judging Bryant from just a basketball standpoint, there are few perimeter players in Bryant’s stratosphere. In fact, there are only three: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Yes, others have been better for a year or two but consistency defines greatness, and Bryant’s decade of dominance thrusts him ahead of most.

To be blunt, there is no debate there—whether it is scoring, passing, defending or being clutch, only those three can be mentioned in the same breath as him. This infuriates his detractors, so they change the rules by which to judge and that infuriates his supporters.

His detractors call him selfish as if Jordan was Santa Claus. Again, from a sheer basketball standpoint, what great player is not selfish? Jordan made a name for himself going one against five, while Magic and Bird were a different type of selfish.

Yes, both Bird and Magic would pass the rock like no other but does anyone actual believe either was not an attention whore?

Does anyone honestly believe Bryant is the first player to demand the ball with the game on the line?   

Michael punched, Larry yelled and Magic got coaches fired, yet only Jordan has felt a similar type of wrath. That, however, was early in his career and evaporated after winning one title. Now granted Jordan and Magic had a certain charm that would light up a room and Bryant is about as charming as a Ferguson toilet. This should not prevent No. 24 from being ranked among those three.

He should not be as commonly detested and should not require such a strong defense. Strictly on the court, his resume is gaudy and worthy of the love he receives in some corners.

Even those who have benefited from his basketball valor have managed to attack Bryant. Phil Jackson’s legacy is cemented because of Kobe. Before Jackson grabbed his last two titles he had the benefit of coaching two of the game’s best at their respective positions. However, Jackson was able
to escape that career detriment and acquire two titles off the back of Bryant and a group of has-beens and never-weres. Jackson’s main gripe with the No. 24 revolved around his attitude, not his game.

Those who have used the guard's time with Shaquille O’Neal as some sort of solidifying factor that he is incapable of capturing a title solo have been quieted. Now there is nothing left to question so the banter has shifted to illogical hate which can only be defended by irrational logic.

There should no longer be a need to argue whether Bryant is overrated. The truth needs no explanation and the truth says Bryant is among the best to ever play. Any other thought is uncivilized.

To be clear, there is no reason for an NBA fan to loathe Bryant; regardless of your team, you have to respect his greatness. There is no reason for people to take such pride in attacking Bryant, except jealousy—and that is an emotion for the weak.

No, the guard is not soft and cuddly and no, he does not smile just to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. All he does is get buckets and win titles, and that should always be how he is judged.