Go on—criticize Kobe Bryant.
Drag the rape case out of the closet. Mention the fact that he re-signed with the Lakers the day after Shaq was traded to Miami. Tell us how he shoots too much, how his defense isn't as consistent as Michael Jordan's was.
Say these things, but never forget that mandatory asterisk next to every flaw. Make your accusations in one breath—and admit his greatness in the next:
"...but Kobe is an undeniable talent."
But, but, but.
Kobe Bryant needs no defense. To criticize the man is at once to praise him.
The quality that makes Kobe great is very often the quality that his detractors harp on: He's ruthless—the truest competitor.
Kobe has been playing all his cards this summer—pulling the strings, shaping his team for next season. His critiques of GM Mitch Kupchak and teammate Andrew Bynum (an apparently uncalculated move) have received plenty of negative publicity...but for all the damage Kobe has done to his image, he has only helped the Lakers.
His trade demands were shocking. He reminded team owner Jerry Buss what it feels like to lose. Yes, Kobe's actions have been ruthless and selfish—but he's a franchise player; he is the Lakers.
And who can argue against the fact that pleasing Kobe will only benefit the Lakers as a team?
Having better players is never a bad thing. Kobe has single-handedly planted the seeds of urgency in a front office that has done little but flounder for three years. And, frankly, closed-door discussions would have had a lesser impact than public statements...because Kobe would been forced to bend to reason in private talks.
Indeed, there was, is, something audaciously unreasonable about Kobe's trade request. Leaving LA, after all, was never his purpose.
But Kobe works by his own logic.
If the Lakers manage to acquire a player like Kevin Garnett, Kobe will deserve full credit. Call him selfish—but he will have given LA far more than just another once-in-a-lifetime, one-man performance.
He will have given LA the most exciting team in the NBA and he may well have given the Lakers another title.
Kobe the giver? Who woulda thought?