I have been a diehard Lakers fan my entire life and as a product of that I am conditioned to root for the jersey above all else over any one individual on the team. While I don’t hate Kobe by any stretch, I have never been the biggest fan of his for some of the reasons that many have stated: he played selfishly, whined publicly about management decisions and was partially responsible for a dynasty coming to an end well before its time. Had Shaq stayed with the Lakers I am convinced that they could have won at least two more titles together.
Over the last few years I have grown to like him because although he is not the quintessential teammate, he has matured as a player and as a person. Without that maturity, he would not have won an MVP and the Lakers would not have reached the finals last year and be on the verge of getting back there this year. And lets face it, as basketball fans, the guy has given us some great individual moments: scoring 81 points in a game, outscoring the Dallas Mavericks by himself after three quarters 62-61 and a streak in which he scored 50 or more in four straight games are just a few.
As a die hard fan of the purple and gold, I have forgiven Kobe for most of the mistakes that he made in his past but the one thing that I am still having a hard time forgiving and forgetting five years later was the selfish display that he put on against the Pistons in Game Four of the 2004 NBA Finals. If you remember, Larry Brown was refusing to double team Shaq and he was having a field day against Ben Wallace, and every player on the Lakers whether it was Fox, Fisher, Malone, Payton, etc. knew it and kept feeding him the ball so that he could just continue to abuse Wallace. Everyone knew it except Kobe Bryant. He showed one of the most selfish displays I have ever seen and basically shot the Lakers right out of that game and the series. Shaq finished with 36 points on 16-of-21 shooting to go along with 20 rebounds while Kobe shot just 8-for-25 to score 20 points and also finished with more turnovers (3) than assists (2) that night. How a player could be that selfish while competing for the league’s most important trophy is beyond me. Had the Lakers won that night, the series would have been tied 2-2. To say they would have won it all after winning that game is absurd because there is no way that anyone could ever know for sure. The one thing that I can tell you is this, there chances were a lot better had the series been tied after four games rather than trailing 3-1 with the next game in Detroit. Five years later, his performance in the game that night still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.