In early December, Ric Bucher of CSN Bay Area reported that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had grown tired of Kobe's trash talking. Bucher reported that the theory floating around was that Bryant had attempted to place a divide in their relationship during the 2012 London Olympics.
The art of trash talking returns.
Since then, Kobe has been on an MVP tear, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have earned the second-best record in the Western Conference. It appears as if Kobe's true intentions were able to come to fruition.
Recently, Bucher caught up with Kobe to learn of what those intentions were (via Sulia). Bryant's response was that he was hoping to "kindle in them the competitive spirit that his generation had."
Whether you believe him or not, Bryant had the following to say:
[Kobe] hopes to kindle in them the competitive spirit -- and jawing -- that his generation had. Same goes for going at Kyrie Irving in a similar manner. As for guarding Russ and being complimentary of his game during Olympic training, he says it wasn't to make RW's head big and foment unrest between KD and Russ (despite what some in OKC think) because he has too much respect for both of them. He still wants to kick their respective asses, but he insists that, in his pursuit of that, he's not quite as devious as some might want to believe.
In an era which players would rather join forces than embrace the competitive thrill of defeating one another, one can see the reasoning in Kobe's approach.
Bryant may have the luxury of playing with superstars, but that doesn't mean the competition isn't stiff. Much like those who came before him, Bryant was simply attempting to get into his opponent's head.
Even the beloved Michael Jordan was a trash talker. Don't ever act like he wasn't an equal villain in his own right.
Kobe as a Leader
Although Kobe may not be the caliber of athlete he was at a younger age, he remains one of the league's most lethal scorers. In fact, Bryant is playing better at 34 than most have and will during their prime.
The key to this level of sustainability is hard work and a champion's mentality. That is something he attempts to instill in everyone he crosses—whether friend or foe.
We've seen this since the day Kobe stepped into the NBA. As the video above will display, Bryant has been attempting to lead his team with "tough love" since his rookie year.
It simply took earning some NBA experience for his reputation to warrant those motivational tactics. Furthermore, this isn't the first time that Kobe has attempted to exact his influence on younger players.
Smush Parker, Bryant's teammate from 2005 to 2007, infamously lashed out at Kobe's approach to leadership (via the Los Angeles Times). Mind you, Parker had his two best seasons while playing alongside Bryant.
He's now out of the NBA, as Kobe continues to earn All-Star appearances.
If you're sensitive and prefer positive reassurance, Bryant is not the player for you. If you enjoy being pushed to your limit, Kobe is your guy.
Simple as that.
Far from the First
Kobe Bryant is not the only player with this aggressive mentality. In fact, the greatest players of all time each shared this approach to the game.
Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and countless others are known by peers for their trash talk as much as their Hall of Fame-caliber play.
This is why Kevin Durant's response to Bryant's trash talking and under-the-belt tactics should not be of anger. Instead, Durant should embrace Bryant's approach and allow it to breed a necessary trait in his game: the ever-elusive aggression.
Admittedly, Bryant could meet Durant in the middle and fuse his brash style with KD's humility. The fact of the matter is, the proof is in the rings.
Magic, Jordan, Bird, Shaq and Kobe are five of the many who have taken this approach. They're also five of the most decorated players in the history of the league.
Although there may be a place for Durant's humble approach, we cannot deny the truth. KD is better when he is aggressive than when he is sensitive to those around him.
As soon as we overcome our faux shock, we'll realize how clever it was for Kobe to do this.