Kobe Bean Bryant. What does this name represent to you?
"The Black Mamba", the "Greatest of All-Time", "Mr. 81 Points"? These are all names that have been beckoned with this man born in the original capital of this country: Philadelphia.
So how can a man who was born in the city of brotherly love feel like the devil in waiting to me? Let me explain...Before I delve into my reasoning I would like to express that today I do not like Kobe Bryant. I used to be a fan of Kobe; He was one of my favorite players, and I fully supported him in all of his endeavors. As of today, he is the fly that cannot be swat, the drink that is slightly too hot and the fire that is never put out.
My first memories of the NBA, or basketball for that matter were of Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers making their 1991 Finals run. It made me a Lakers fan then and there watching the Lakers get trounced viciously and decisively by the young and rampant Chicago Bulls.
From then on, as Magic retired due to HIV and the Lakers moved through their years of cultivating young talent, (Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, Vlade Divac) I became somewhat perplexed that this team that had been great for so long before me had taken on dire times.
Next came along the awaited 1996 NBA Draft. The Lakers with Shaquille O'Neal coming aboard made an unheard of decision (which at the time made perfect sense seeing that they already had Eleden Campbell to back up Shaq) and traded a proven center in Vlade Divac away for the 13th pick. In turn they received this brash, high school kid from the Charlotte Hornets. A sense of optimism was brewing.
Now I was just entering my teenage years, but I as the rest of the kids around my age could see, there was something special in this kid. He was only 18, but had the moves and style of a veteran pole dancer. He showed signs of greatness with every 360 dunk and spin as Chick Hearn or Bob Costas would yell out "Kobe!" over the play-by-play.
During his second season of course, he became the sixth man who made the all-star team and went head to head with his Airness, Michael Jordan. He had the mini afro going , and continued to grow as did his game all the way into the 2000 Finals. This is when I and many others were sold on Kobe not only as the great player, but as the great man.
Playing injured in overtime of Game 5 with Shaq fouled out, Kobe dueled against Reggie Miller and came out on top. That was THE decisive game in the series and Kobe had owned it for the Lakers. Lakers fans including myself were ecstatic that the Lakers had the won the title. Now it was just a matter of doing this every year...
Shaq is no doubt the most dominant player in history physically, but that doesn't mean a 210 pound human can't break him down mentally. Shaq vs. Kobe this, Shaq vs. Kobe that. A never ending soap opera that had more twists and turns than a season of General Hospital and enough pain to put each of them in a clinic.
At the time, they were both being egotistical premadonnas and had similar arguments. The main issue that began and grew was "Who's the man"? The answer then and still looking back today was SHAQ. This began my frustrations with Bryant.
Kobe would be as great or nearly as good as Shaq eventually was conventional wisdom; the problem was that that day wasn't today. Shaq was still a force that could not be stopped. He proved it every year in the Playoffs through 2002 with three straight Finals MVP's and championships.
This delivers to me to the point in which things began to change for the Lakers and my pure love. After they were defeated in 2003, mostly due to the lack of help for Kobe and Shaq, they made necessary changes. They responded by signing two of the greatest of all-time in Gary Payton and "The Mailman" Karl Malone.
The delivery of a Championship was at their doorstep. All they had to do was figure out a way to bring it inside. That job was put in the hands of Kobe Bryant.
In the summer of 2003, Kobe is charged with sexual assault. His world goes into turmoil and I’m given the idea that this crisis would be the daunting change he needed.
The 2003-2004 Season began and Kobe to his credit was quiet, respectable, and understanding. He was even finding a way to play games throughout the hoopla like Houdini. I was beginning to wonder when the magic would ware off. I mean, the idea of getting through this season with not a mark on your body is unimaginable. He had a better chance of coming clean through a bed of blades then through the 03’-04’ season.
Kobe was known to aggravate more than Just Shaq. Phil Jackson, quite possibly the greatest coach of all-time, was pleading with Kobe to follow his instructions through many discussions that season. Kobe responded by giving him the shrug off or the occasional outspoken word. "Your one to f*****g talk". (In response to Phil Jackson's noting to the press that Kobe would sabotage games in High School just to win them in the end). Just one example of the childish games Kobe chose to participate in that drove me nuts.
The team made its mount in the opening rounds of the Playoffs. Thanks to .4 seconds and Derek Fisher, they passed the Spurs in the Western Semis and took on the over matched Detroit Pistons in the Finals.
LA had this in the bag pretty well from an analyst perspective. Even with the injured Karl Malone, it should be no problem for at least three future Hall of Famers to take down this rag tag bunch. Kobe was playing sound and confident ball. However, herein lays the problem that was created then and has continued since. Any part of the humbleness and understanding of Kobe Bryant was thrown out the window.
Instead of getting the ball down to Shaq who could not be stopped, the ball was continually shot on fade-aways by Kobe Bean Bryant with his foot on or just in front of the three point line. It was the equivalent of being constantly poked with a needle thread in the side watching this series.Shaq had constant advantages in the post over Ben Wallace, but was not being fed the ball.
This continued throughout the series. Kobe to his support, did hit a big three pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation in Game 2 which led to the win. This was a rare occasion in this series and the only Lakers win.
The Lakers did not have the large gap of control over this series that was assumed at first glance. Chauncey Billups on his way to MVP, was killing Payton and Fisher or whoever guarded him. Rasheed Wallace was playing huge making big buckets and Ben Wallace was a glass cleaner.
What did this all mean?
They couldn’t play these Finals like they did against Philadelphia in 2001, and New Jersey in 2002. This series was actually going to be a contest. They didn’t perform to their full abilities and they just didn’t play smart.
Following the Finals, it became EGO Trip 2004. Kobe vs. Phil and Shaq, who was going to be choose? It was a Heavyweight showdown and the lightest of the bunch won out. Phil left coaching just as he had in Chicago and Shaq was traded to Miami for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant.
The team and the power would finally belong to Kobe. Rudy Tomjanovich would replace Phil as coach for the following season with Payton and Malone leaving as well.
The team under Tomjanovich actually started the season out at a decent state of 24-19. He was forced to leave for health concerns for Frank Hamblen. Under Hamblen, the team went 10-29 and failed to make the Playoffs for the first time in Kobe’s career. The irritable parts of Kobe showed through their losses. The reemergence of Phil Jackson would show as the Lakers brought him back for their winning ways.
Under Jackson the following year, the Lakers would make the Playoffs and take a 3-1 series lead against the Suns following a Kobe game winning jumper. Yet, Kobe couldn’t motivate his teammates to give support and the Suns would win the next three games. I remember being irate that the leader of this team could not take over and carry his team to a win over a three game span.
I had seen that ability from Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett at that time, why not Kobe? He was the killer, the one who had the ability to give the finishing snake bite to the wounded animal. He had once again let me down playing the same ball in the last three games that he did against the Pistons in the 2004 Finals.
When Kobe finally got his way and was entering the ’04-’05 season, Ray Allen was given an interview after the first game of the season. He was speaking to the state of one, Kobe Bryant.
He stated this: “If Kobe doesn't see he needs two and a half good players to be a legitimate playoff contender or win a championship in about a year or two he'll be calling out to Jerry Buss that 'We need some help in here,' or trade me, and we'll all be saying, 'I told you so,' when he says that." With that thought in mind, we move into the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
As the summer was ending and the Lakers were getting ready to come back from another First Round loss, Kobe followed Allen’s predictions. He began to complain and demand a trade from the Lakers to a team that could win. I was at a loss, this from a man that had been given the keys to the biggest franchise in the NBA and now he wanted to leave?
He had forced the hand of every member in the organization to get the team to his state of play and he still wasn’t happy. It didn’t matter that he didn’t leave for the Clippers during this period of Free Agency. Given what he had constructed, there was no reason for him to even consider another team.
All the headaches to start the season even had Lakers fans booing him to start the season. People who had backed him for a decade were now getting the short end of the stick.
Had Kobe become so narrowed mind he couldn’t see his personal effect on the team?
He eventually decided to stay with the team after they reasoned there was no true reason to trade Kobe. An angry and selfish Kobe wasn’t that much different than the normal one. As the pain subsided February 3, 2008 showed up.
This would be the day the Lakers would essentially steal Pau Gasol away from the Grizzlies for Kwame Brown. The whining would stop from Kobe as he had a man to do what Kobe couldn’t do: be a physical beast. Yes, there is another point I make. Kobe is as tough minded a player as anyone when it comes to basketball, but he is not Charles Oakley on the court.
Let’s face it, Chris Childs showed us that when Kobe tried to fight him in the Great Western Forum, that that was one thing he had no skills in. Kobe is not going to bang the boards and give you great interior defense. He is a great perimeter defender; we cannot mix the two up. I agree he is a top 5 defender in the league, but there are many different ways one can be a great defender.
With Pau, the emergence of Andrew Bynum and Phil on the sidelines, the Lakers would return to the Finals. Awaiting them, would be the hungry Boston Celtics. This would be the series that Kobe would truly have the chance to make a claim at being Jordan-esque.
This was his first time as the main man in the series. Instead of Magic vs. Michael or Barkley vs. Michael it would be Kobe vs. Garnett. To be honest, I was expecting more from Kobe. I was misinformed that again Kobe would not show up in the Finals. His lack of energy in Game 6 was almost as pathetic as Paul Pierce’s fake injury in Game One. Another season would go by without a title for Kobe.
Finally, Kobe and Pau would lead the Lakers to their first title in seven years. I by this point had lost my love for the Lakers. After almost twenty years of love, Randy Newman’s tune did not flow with me. I decided to give up on being a supporter of the Lakers at this time. I will not be a fan again until Kobe has left the team. Why after 20 years would I leave? Well, Kobe.
Kobe has become the embodiment of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and now Los Angeles Lakers of the U.S. They are the media darling of each of their sports. With over glorified members on each of their rosters (Kobe, Alex Rodriguez, ANY Dallas Cowboy).
He represents the fan that is not truly a fan. He represents that which uses Kobe as a status symbol, and not as a true love of the art of basketball. He represents the pop rap today that is almost as bad as the supposed rap he did to begin the millennium. He revels in who he is and walks with a swagger that does not allow for thought, just acceptance.
I for one will not just accept, I will move for change in the game. Hopefully, when Kobe reaches the end of his career and his skills have diminished, he will become whole as a person and take on a new beginning.
I have to believe as much as I hate him, that this will be the time Kobe Bryant truly steps up in the Finals. I am not going to accept last years Finals as a true barometer.This time he will be cool and calm I believe as usual.
The key difference will be Pau Gasol. He is the man who allowed Kobe his title last year and should be better this time around against Kevin Garnett. If Kobe and Pau get help from their bench, I see the home court being the difference in L.A. winning this series. In the end though, we play the games to see the outcome not just take it as an assumption.