Let me begin by saying that no one should shed a tear for Kobe Bean Bryant.
He is a world famous athlete, with championship rings, million-dollar endorsement deals, a beautiful wife and two wonderful little girls. Hard to feel sorry for the guy.
Still, never have we had a player that's had to face as much criticism as he has. Whether fair or unfair, since coming into the league, he's been under the microscope.
Kobe didn't come into the NBA saying he was going to be the next Michael Jordan. In fact Kobe didn't come into the league saying much except how happy he was to be here. Yet from the time he first came off the bench for Eddie Jones, he's been constantly compared to the only man in Chicago more famous than Walter Payton.
When the Lakers first traded Shaq, the heat on Kobe intensified and everyone looked to Bryant to lead the Lakers to a championship, sans the Big Aristotle. The rumor was Kobe forced Shaq out, because he wanted to be the man and the 7'2" part-time rapper was in his way.
Thus the murmuring began.
When success didn't come and all of a sudden the word became that Kobe couldn't win without Shaq and now his "legacy" (ugh...) was in question. After all, Shaq won again without Kobe, all Shaq had in Miami was some guy they called D-Wade.
No one held it against MJ that he couldn't win without Pippen, or that in Orlando Shaq couldn't win without Bryant. In fact, Shaq's teammates in Orlando, Neal Anderson and Penny Hardaway, both scored more points than Kobe did during his first Lakers title run, and the Rockets still swept the Magic.
No, we don't remember that, because we like Shaq. We like him in spite of (or perhaps because of) his horrible movie, video game, and rap career. We like him when he throws players and coaches under the bus, because you see, Shaq is "keeping it real".
When Kobe says anything negative about a player or a coach, he's just being an arrogant prick.
We call Kobe to task when he is belligerent to teammates instead of being encouraging, but we simply shrug when numerous players that played with Jordan say they hated playing with him. That he was a bully in practices and intensely driven and critical during games.
That's just MJ's desire to win.
When Kobe does it, it's a manifestation of his huge ego, which will not allow him to look bad.
If the 24-hour media drip every sports fan has plugged into his veins existed in the time of Jordan, would he still be as revered?
I mean, Jordan was obviously much more discreet in cheating on his wife than Kobe was, and his gambling issues were for the most part ignored. Which gave us the unique opportunity not found in today's game:
We were able to judge Michael solely on his play on the court.
When we think about Jordan we think about the shot over Craig Ehlo.
The shrug as he torches the Portland Trailblazers.
The tears of winning a championship after the painful loss of his father.
The gentle push he gave Bryon Russell as he drained the game-winner to collect his sixth ring.
And even on the rare occasion when we think of Jordan off the court, we think of the movie Space Jam.
Michael Jackson teaching him how to Moonwalk.
Or more recently, his indifference towards Charlie Sheen in those Haines commercials.
We love Michael Jordan, because we've really been given no other alternative.
With Kobe, we've been given plenty.
If you don't hate his cocky attitude (which all the great NBA players had and have) then you can choose from any of the following:
His Colorado infidelities.
His getting Shaq booted out of LA.
His demanding a trade not long after.
His assertions that Andrew Bynum needed to be traded for Jason Kidd.
The apparent perception that none of his teammates like him or like playing with him.
That he is a bad or ineffective leader.
My favorite probably had nothing to do with him, but those ridiculous puppets made me want to put a foot through my television set...
There are probably more that people list as their personal favorite reasons of hate, but the bottom line is, nothing he's done hasn't been done before.
And it's been done by the greats.
People forget Barkley's penchant for bar fights, or his calling players soft on the court. Getting into it with opposing players and teammates.
Nobody thinks about Magic's constant cheating on Cookie.
We've forgotten Larry Bird's hard-nosed (some called it dirty) play or his foul language on the court. He was known to get in his teammates face during games, and I doubt he was yelling "You still bringing the kids over to my house this weekend?"
None of it mattered when they played, and few even think of it now.
So why so much animosity thrown Kobe Bryant's way for his mistakes? Why are his missteps seen in a darker, harsher light?
Maybe because Jordan didn't have to carry the torch of players before him, because he was unique unto himself. Jordan had no one to live up to.
Maybe because it was a more forgiving time then. With steroids tainting baseball, referees fixing NBA games and illegal video tapes in football, it could be the American sports fan demands more from its elite players.
The standards of acceptable behavior have changed.
Then again, no one batted an eye when LeBron James cursed at his mother court side.
You can't feel sorry for Kobe Bryant the man, but the player just can't seem to do enough.
On the night that he finally does what the media and critical fans have said he has to do in order to be considered "great" some were still moved to say:
Well, he still needed a seven-footer to win a championship—it just happened to be Pau Gasol instead of O'neal.
His MVP stat line of 32 points seven assists and five rebounds weren't good, enough I guess.
Make no mistake, Kobe is not Michael Jordan.
He may well be by the end of his career, but that's not something any of us can say with any certainty.
What we can say for sure is for a player who has accomplished as much as he has he deserves a little more respect than being called overrated