Kobe Bryant's Leadership Stance Impacts His Perception

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterOctober 17, 2012

ONTARIO, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles as he remains in street clothes for the game with the Portland Trail Blazers at Citizens Business Bank Arena on October 10, 2012 in Ontario, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant has been vocal of late, and not in a way that jibes with the recent media framing of a veteran who just doesn't care about what you think anymore. This is a powerful device, so powerful that many commenters cited it per a Facebook post where Bryant precisely states his concern for how he is thought of: 

"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."

Okay then. Note to all you lazy blamers out there: You don't even share food preferences or TV viewing habits with Bryant. Nothing in common, nothing! 

Bryant also went in on Smush Parker (as detailed by Grantland's Rafe Bartholomew), trying to distance himself from the performance of those mediocre Shaq-Pau interregnum mid-2000's Laker teams (via the Los Angeles Times):

"I tell Steve, you won MVP but I was playing with Smush Parker. He's playing with [Leandro] Barbosa. I'm playing with Smush and Kwame [Brown]. My goodness."

Kobe went on to add:

"Smush Parker was the worst. He shouldn't have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on."

Yeesh. Granted, those Lakers team weren't great shakes. There's also little reason to make that point now. It's generally accepted that Bryant (and Lamar Odom, who never gets credit for slogging along on that squad) were underserved by the help—er, surrounding talent. 

Bryant's also taken the time to give some fairly self-serving advice to a struggling Alex Rodriguez (via ESPN): 

"He's one of the best to ever play. I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he's the best. ... Where, I don't."

Good to know. Kobe's greatness never eludes himself. And James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is James Cameron. 

In the foreground of all this chatter, Bryant has been repeatedly asserting that the Lakers are his team to all inquiring media. While I can understand that the 34 year-old veteran doesn't want to be taken out to pasture just yet, it's an odd message to a younger, and better, incoming teammate. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Kobe Bryant is starting to sound like a caricature of the self-created caricature of himself. Outside of the bubble where we take every angry, grandiose Kobe comment as indication of why he's a winner, he's coming off as vaguely crazy. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Bryant's "You're welcome" persona so long as it doesn't creep into bizarre cruelty. Like any good pro wrestler, Kobe has a firm handle on his archetype and how to play it. He's a monomaniacal competition fiend, an alpha male who has prioritized team success for the sake of individual success. He is Charles Foster Kane. He is Daniel Plainview. He is Michael Jordan. 

But, now that Kobe Bryant has reached such immense success, are there any limits as to what constitutes acceptable behavior? Bryant can say almost anything and the response is "Well, that's why he's Kobe," as in, "Well, this otherwise reprehensible behavior contributes to the winning that we all agree is paramount." 

It all reminds us of how Michael Jordan came to also sound vaguely crazy in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Even then, the shrugging response from many was that Jordan's petty, meandering, embarrassing display was indivisible from greatness. "That's what made him MJ," they would excuse. 

What if these awful qualities were more resultant from a specific, alienating existence than from any internal motivator? What if media members have constructed such a bubble around both figures that terribleness always gets excused, or even rewarded? We might be socially conditioning these athletes to be conceited husks of humanity. 

There are plenty of great athletes who got there while comporting themselves like people you might actually want to spend time with. It's wholly possible that Michael Jordan just happened to be a physical basketball genius, and we mistakenly used his annoying personality to explain why it happened. Now that we have this archetype of "alpha male scorer" though, terribleness will be seen as a virtue by many. 

I'm less concerned about what kids might glean from this than about the athletes themselves. It must be hard to keep your sanity when everyone wants you to play a villainous hero. I feel sorry for Kobe, even if he publicly feels no such sympathy for the weak among us.