I will never forget when Kobe Bryant hit rock bottom. It was perhaps the least graceful fall from the pedestal of stardom that sports had ever seen, at least before Michael Vick and slain dogs. It was then, back in the summer of 2003, that Kobe was consequently divided from not only casual fans, but even his closest followers. Even Jim Gray stopped talking to him.
I remember grabbing Phil Jackson's book, the Last Season shortly after it came out. It should have probably been called, Kobe: the last player a coach would want in his locker room.
The book was filled with shocking revelations of a chaotic locker room, and depicted an organization that lacked structure and direction. Soon enough, the organization would lack the stability of one of the greatest coaches to ever step on the hardwood floor.
I remember the first Shaq versus Kobe Christmas day game back in 2004, when the Laker franchise had Rudy Tomjonvaic on the sidelines. I remember Kobe putting up 30 shots, and scoring 42 points, shooting a terrible off balance jumper that clanged off the rim to allow the game to go into overtime.
To no one's surprise the Lakers came up short and lost the game, and lost a lot more that season, finishing with a record of 34-48, which was Kobe's first losing season, ever.
I remember the 81 point game, and the scoring onslaughts that followed. Yet people were unimpressed how Bryant transformed the equal opportunity triangle offense into a solo act, in which the number 24 was the only one that was called.
Strategically, it worked about half the time, as the Lakers were personfication of the word mediocre, a puzzling fact for a team that posessed the so called best player in the world.
I remember listening to Kobe on the radio with Steven A Smith in the beginning of 2007, where out of the blue he sounded hurt, like a little boy leaving behind all he's ever known to begin a quest for manhood. He explained that his relationship with the Laker franchise needed to come to an end. He uttered words that many disgruntled superstars have before, yet that fact didn't make the public more ready to hear him say "trade me."
And do you remember the rumors? Luol Deng and Ben Gordon almost made Kobe really Jordan's predecessor. Imagine how much the media would have fed into their favorite pastime "debating how much Kobe thinks, moves, shoots, scores, etc like Jordan."
I bring up the lowest of lows in Bryant's career, to show how far he's come. It is an attempt to clarify that when Mark Jackson says "Mama there goes that man" for the 100th time in one night, that it's a different man driving to the whole from the one who rocked the number eight jersey and lacked maturity.
Nevertheless, the things that happened in the past, made him into the player that he is today. I'm unsure whether today's victory against the Magic has cemented Bryant in the categories that commentators across the sports world so desperately want him to be in. (I still can't believe Van Gundy called him the best Laker ever.) Nevertheless, to win his fourth championship, first without Shaq, is an impressive feat.
There is no need for ESPN and ABC to constantly rewrite history in order to save his legacy. Jeff Van Gundy last night questioned whether he was ever "really a bad teammate."
That's like questioning if Allen Iverson ever really missed practice.
It's as though this squeaky clean image that Bryant once posessed, has been permanently blemished. And those who support him can not stand it. They can't stand the fact that at a point in time he was selfish, he wasn't a great leader, and that he didnt trust his teammates.
It's been seven long years, since Bryant won his last championship. And although they have been filled with ups and downs, undoubtedly, it is the process, and the resiliency of Bryant that has earned my respect.
The most important thing about history, as educators have said, is that you learn from it. And I believe that Bryant has.
Thus I will say congratulations Kobe! You have come a long way.
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