Kobe Bryant can be considered a lot of things, but amenable to losing is not one of them.
The Black Mamba has recently been stirring up the headlines as he continues his penchant for revisiting the Smush Parker days, yet for all the criticism, all the exorbitantly harsh soundbites he provides, all Bryant has ever cared about is winning.
And the Smush-killer himself took to Facebook to remind us all of that:
Leadership is responsibility.
There comes a point when one must make a decision. Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain? Here's where the true responsibility of being a leader lies. Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived. The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort. It's pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I'd rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that's just not reality. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
Is Kobe sometimes difficult to love? Most definitely, but there is no denying there is plenty of truth to his most recent words.
Being a leader is a responsibility, one of the utmost importance, in fact. Championships are not won by teams without a structured dynamic; they're captured by franchises who have at least one player willing to do whatever is necessary for his team to win.
Even if that entails said player becoming a villain, a role Bryant himself has toiled with on many occasions over the last 16 years.
And yet as often as he is resented, is Kobe considered, is he "perceived" as anyone other than a winner?
No, not at all. With Bryant, it's all about winning, about milking every last inch of potential out of his supporting cast to better the cause. And when that doesn't happen, when a season does not culminate in the attainment of a championship ring, he's not afraid to voice his displeasure, hence the perpetual criticism of Parker.
Just think about it. Have you ever doubted Bryant's ability as a teammate? Of course, Shaquille O'Neal is a walking testament to his supposed deficiencies as one.
But more importantly, have you ever doubted his commitment to winning? No, and even if you have, those five championship rings and two Finals MVPs speak for themselves.
Bryant isn't in Los Angeles to be a good friend; he's there to win, to lead his team to victory. And you cannot always do that without getting your hands dirty, stepping on some toes and spending an ample amount of time embracing the art of villainy.
After all, why should Bryant accept the limitations of his teammates when he refuses to accept his own restrictions as an athlete?
Sure, there are the silent winners, like Tim Duncan, who have flown under the radar, yet have managed to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy into the air more than once. But have any of those seen the light of such an occasion more than Bryant? Have any of them had to deal with the type of roster instability he has?
No and no. We often forget that Bryant has not had the luxury of building dynasties in the conventional sense. Sure, the teams that won titles were pillars of consistency and the poster-entities for chemistry, but in between, Kobe has played with countless players, suffered through years of shuffling.
But through it all, the Lakers have managed to remain relevant.
And you know what? That hasn't changed, because Bryant hasn't changed. He's never accepted anything less than a title, and there's nothing wrong with that.
So, call him a bad teammate if you must, but that doesn't matter. He'll never shy away from speaking his mind, from tarnishing the reputation of a former—or even current—teammate, but he'll also never avoid the opportunity to reward diligence with his support. Just ask Pau Gasol.
More importantly, though, he'll never willingly put himself or the Lakers in a position where losing is the only option. Because with Kobe, as brash as he is, as hated as he can be and as counterproductive as his tactics may seem, losing is never an option.
That's what winning is about. It's all that Bryant cares about.
And it's also what being a good leader is all about.