Kobe Bryant and 10 NBA Stars with Biggest Chip on Their Shoulder
Bryant falls under the category of a player who, year in and year out, has something to prove. Whether that's trying to catch Michael Jordan in the rings department or proving he can still win a scoring title at the age of 34, there's always something that motivates Bryant.
Obviously, Bryant isn't the only player in the NBA with a chip on his shoulder. Many players have one, for numerous reasons.
LeBron James with his impossible standards.
Kevin Durant fresh off a loss in the NBA Finals.
Russell Westbrook with his unfair media criticism.
The great players always have a chip on their shoulders.
That's what makes them great.
10. LeBron James
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LeBron James may finally be an NBA champion, but he will continue to face the nonstop comparison to Michael Jordan.
First off, let's just stop that ridiculous Jordan-James argument right now.
James is great, but Jordan is immortal.
In Jack McCallum's new book, Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever, former Detroit Pistons and Dream Team coach Chuck Daly is quoted saying, "This guy [Jordan] is so good, he’s an embarrassment to the league.’’
James has his peers in the NBA—Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, to name a few.
Jordan had none. He played on an entirely different level.
Inevitably, James will still be compared to Jordan. Comparisons are what make following sports fun.
It's not good enough to just be King James. He'll always have to do more. That, in effect, should give James a huge chip on his shoulder. He's no longer playing to prove he can win a championship. James is playing to win as many NBA championships as Jordan, e.g. Kobe Bryant.
How big of a chip James has is up to him. He can't allow himself to get comfortable with his recent success. The great ones will always want more. It'll be interesting to see how James reacts during the 2012-13 season.
9. Carmelo Anthony
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Disrespect is something Carmelo Anthony has gotten very used to during his tenure with the New York Knicks.
Knicks fans thought they were going to get James way back when. Instead their franchise traded half its roster for Anthony—the shot-happy, defensive-effort-lacking small forward who's only been past the first round of the NBA playoffs once.
The disrespect is understandable: Anthony hasn't been as good in a Knicks uniform as he was in a Denver Nuggets uniform.
He's a scapegoat in the Jeremy Lin departure; he doesn't do much to make his teammates better; he is an offensive black hole at times; and he was a key factor in Mike D'Antoni's departure (who Anthony ironically played for this summer on Team USA).
Anthony has said he's optimistic about the Knicks' upcoming season, and he should be. He has much to prove.
There's no doubt Anthony is a top-10 player in the NBA from a talent standpoint. If you watched any Team USA games this summer, it was clear he was one of the squad's best players. But Anthony has yet to prove he's a winner, which is all New York cares about. Winning trumps everything.
Ask James—putting up gaudy statistics in the NBA can be easy if you're an elite talent. Winning is extremely difficult.
Anthony doesn't have much longer in his career to prove he can be a winner. If that doesn't give him a huge chip on his shoulder, who knows what will?
8. DeMarcus Cousins
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There's no denying the talent is there, but Cousins' immaturity is clearly evident in his game. He fouls too much, gets too many technical fouls and has a habit of being confrontational with other players.
Nothing upsets Cousins more than being called "immature." When USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Cousins "has some growing up to do," Cousins wanted to know why he felt that way:
I asked him how I was being immature. He never really gave me an answer. He just said it was his opinion. I told him I'm just trying to come out and play hard. I'm not trying to be any of that. I have respect for every veteran in here, so at the end of the day, I'm really just trying to play hard.
Cousins needs to wipe away this image of himself being a giant baby. It will be tough, but doable at the same time. Cousins will need to do these three things in the upcoming season:
1. Show he's good/mature enough to be a franchise player.
2. In his mind, prove it was a mistake to leave him off Team USA's roster after Blake Griffin's injury.
3. Remove the immature tag.
That's a lot of blackboard material for a player on the rise. It's usually year three when the talented young players make the leap. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook all did. We'll have to wait and see if Cousins can join that list.
7. Lamar Odom
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Remember Lamar Odom? He was pretty good as recently as two years ago, when he was the Sixth Man of the Year for the Los Angeles Lakers.
You know the story though.
Odom and the Mavericks severed ties, and Odom sat at home for the end of the regular season and playoffs.
Now Odom is back in Los Angeles, this time playing for the franchise that drafted him with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft: the Clippers.
Is Odom done, or was last season just a fluke? If he has any pride left, he should play with a vengeance this season. Odom was a pariah in Dallas last year, the definition of unprofessional.
Good thing for Odom that he's playing with Chris Paul now. If anyone can get the most out of Odom's talents, it's Paul.
You would assume Odom doesn't want to end his NBA career as a joke. He has to prove last year was simply a fluke, or unfortunately for him, his career will be defined by his one terrible season in Dallas.
6. Jeremy Lin
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What a year it has been for Jeremy Lin.
Lin was claimed off waivers by the New York Knicks in late December 2011 following an injury to Iman Shumpert.
He stumbled into some playing time while the Knicks were going through an injury bug and became a sensation with his unexpected heroics.
The storybook ending would have been for Lin to return to the Knicks for Linsanity Part Two.
As usual, things didn't go as planned. Lin was a restricted free agent this summer, which means he could be signed to an offer sheet by another team, but the Knicks had the right to match the offer and keep him.
Lin got an offer from the Houston Rockets, which the Knicks said they would match. But then the Rockets increased Lin's offer, and that's when things got messy.
Apparently, Knicks owner James Dolan was upset Lin went back to the Rockets to have the offer increased. The Knicks let Lin walk in spite, ending the feel-good story of Linsanity.
You can argue all day about whether the Knicks made the right move or not. The bottom line is Lin is now a Rocket, and Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are both Knicks.
Lin is now the face of the Rockets franchise, and he has a long way to go to prove he's capable of carrying that torch.
He must feel spurned by the Knicks, which is something he could use as motivation for the upcoming season.
5. Blake Griffin
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The 2010-11 NBA season was the year of Blake Griffin.
His hard dunks were reminiscent of Shawn Kemp, and he was the most exciting young player since a rookie LeBron James.
Here's the thing people need to remember—Griffin is going into his third playing season. By all accounts, he's doing fine.
In fact, you can argue he's way ahead of the curve. In his first two NBA seasons, Griffin averaged 21.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and shot 52 percent from the field. Most importantly, Griffin goes all out every game, which is all you can ask for as a fan.
Just because Griffin can dunk really hard and ESPN shows his highlights nonstop doesn't mean we should hold him to an impossible standard.
Other power forwards entering their third year (DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe) aren't judged anywhere near as harshly.
As mentioned earlier with Cousins, the third year is when the great players make the leap. Surely Griffin wants to quiet the critics who question his lack of an all-around game.
The chip on Griffin's shoulder has been growing for some time. Let's see how he reacts.
4. Dwight Howard
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If you were to make a list of the "Most Hated Players in the NBA" or the "Most Annoying Players in the NBA," Dwight Howard would be a candidate for the top spot on both. The guy just doesn't get it.
No player in the NBA has more to prove this upcoming season than Howard.
How will he react in a big market? Will he be able to make a full recovery? Will he be able to coexist with Kobe Bryant?
All of those are serious questions. In that regard, Howard should have the biggest chip on his shoulder heading into the season, but that doesn't mean he will.
Grantland's Bill Simmons said on his podcast that many of the 2008 Team USA players questioned Howard's work ethic, which could be a reason Bryant didn't push harder for the Lakers to acquire him. Anytime someone questions your work ethic, it means you need to re-establish a few things.
With that being said, Howard knows he has to perform to change his image around the league and with the fans.
He will constantly be compared to the other great big men in Lakers history, and he will be pushed and pushed by Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
Laker fans stand by Bryant through thick and thin.
They won't show Howard the same respect.
He needs to earn it first.
3. Russell Westbrook
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While Kevin Durant can do no wrong in the eyes of many, Russell Westbrook is the complete opposite—the easy scapegoat for most of the Oklahoma City Thunder's shortcomings.
Here's the thing with Westbrook. He's an aggressive offensive player who takes care of most of the Thunder's ball-handling duties.
Because Westbrook does most of the ball-handling and he's 6'3", he's naturally listed as a point guard. Since point guards are supposed to distribute the ball and keep their teammates involved, we demonize Westbrook's aggressive play.
You probably don't want to hear this, but there's really no correct way to play any position.
Instead, there are sort-of guidelines.
Bryant plays shooting guard differently than someone like Doug Christie did. Kevin Love plays power forward differently than Dirk Nowitzki does. Shaquille O'Neal played center differently than Pau Gasol did before Andrew Bynum was in the starting lineup for the Lakers.
Westbrook essentially plays a style similar to Derrick Rose, except Rose doesn't have Durant on his team.
Westbrook plays the way he does because that's what makes him most effective. It must be working too, considering the Thunder just made the NBA Finals and made it to the Western Conference finals the year before that. Durant didn't do it all by himself.
As Westbrook matures as a player, he'll learn to be smarter with the ball and not take as many dumb jump shots. In terms of Westbrook shooting more than Durant in some games, it doesn't bother Durant or any other Thunder players, so why should it bother us? Here's what Durant had to say about it:
Everybody thinks he should be a traditional point guard like a (John) Stockton or (Thunder assistant) Mo Cheeks. There’s a lot of people that can’t be like Russ, either. We need him to play the way he plays. ... You guys don’t see how hard he works and how much he wants it.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks agreed:
We need Russell to score. I know some of you don’t like that, but Russell is a very, very gifted, talented player, and we would not be in this position without Russell.
Last point: Beside Westbrook, Durant and James Harden, who else can the Thunder rely on to score consistently? They really do need Westbrook to play the way he does unless they add more offensive firepower.
The chip on Westbrook's shoulder this season won't just be built up on the unfair criticism he receives from the media, but from losing in the NBA championship as well. Getting that far and losing must burn.
Along with Durant, the two have a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Maybe if the Thunder win an NBA championship, people will get off him for his style of play.
2. Kobe Bryant
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Kobe Bryant always has a chip on his shoulder, which is why he's so high on this list.
Bryant always has something to prove, year in and year out. He's actively chasing Michael Jordan's greatness and may have struck gold in the offseason when his Lakers acquired Howard. Just like that, the Lakers are once again serious NBA championship contenders.
After a summer and spring of continuous James and Durant praising, this season could be Bryant's last chance to show he can still dominate with the best of them. Bryant is no longer being considered the best player since Jordan. That title now belongs to James. Knowing the competitor Bryant is, that must not sit well with him.
With both Howard and Steve Nash, this year's Lakers team has a chance to be the best Bryant has ever played on. He has the one player that could put the fear of god in the Miami Heat and another that will have the ability to make it all work. Bryant has been an elite player his entire career. He's going to go out with a bang, or at least he will (metaphorically) die trying.
1. Kevin Durant
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Kevin Durant went from being beaten by his media-driven rival LeBron James to being his teammate in the summer on Team USA.
Here's what Durant had to say when asked if it bothers him coming to the gym and seeing James every day:
It does. It does, but what can I do? He's my teammate now. I'm a team player. I can't let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It's tough to lose in the finals and play the guy you've been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I'm just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard.
The pain from the finals loss must burn Durant every second of the day. He brought his team so far and so close, only to trip up at the end.
Here's an opinion—the loss might be a good thing for Durant, Westbrook and Co. Sometimes you must experience defeat before you can experience success.
Look at Jordan. It took him seven years before he won his first title. Three seasons in a row the Bulls were defeated by the Detroit Pistons. In 1990-91, the Bulls finally overcame the Pistons, sweeping them en route to their fist title.
The list of goes on and on. It took Shaquille O'Neal eight years. As we all know, it took James nine.
The fact Durant has gotten so close to winning an NBA championship so early into his career is incredible. Now that he knows what its like to play in the NBA Finals, he'll be hungrier than ever.
The chip on Durant's shoulder will continue to grow until he becomes an NBA champion. He'll have obstacles along the way, but at the rate Durant has improved, there's a good chance he'll overcome them in the very near future.
Follow Branden FitzPatrick on Twitter @divingmelvin