Kobe Bryant is at the pinnacle of his chosen profession. He sells more jerseys than anyone in basketball and possibly the world. He is arguably the biggest star in the NBA today, whilst at the same time remains somewhat of a mystery to the legions of fans and enemies he has picked up along the ride. Kobe is a private person and a family man, and is said to socialise rarely outside his home; hence not much is known about the man who entertains the masses nightly with his exploits on the hardwood.
Joe ‘jelly bean’ Bryant moved his family to Italy when Kobe was 6 as Bryant Snr was playing in the Italian league. Kobe quickly picked up both Italian and soccer and had his family stayed more than the 7 years they were in Italy, Kobe could possibly have been playing for a different team USA than the one he is universally linked to as captain of the ‘redeem team’.
You see he is an immensely talented human being, and with that comes true belief in his abilities which does include a healthy dose of downright arrogance. Kobe once stated he could play wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles (Kobe’s home town), and in an interview with Magic Johnson coach Phil Jackson agreed Kobe could probably play in the NFL.
Kobe Bryant is a once in a generation type player. People love to point out that his career looks so good because he has been at the Lakers since day 1. They often compare him to A.I or T-Mac as examples of how he would have turned out had he not been on such a high profile and successful team.
What many people miss or under-estimate in Kobe is his insatiable desire to win at all costs that has not been seen since you know who (sorry I know everyone is sick to death of the MJ comparisons, but there are similarities between the two). I once saw Kobe land upside down almost on his neck by jumping over a Sacramento Kings player chasing a loose ball out of bounds in a regular season game!
It is this same focus and desire to win that can adversely affect his public image. Ron Artest makes for a better post game interview that Kobe. He at least speaks his mind. KB’s media training is so impeccable and his mind so impenetrable that he rarely if ever states what he is actually thinking when asked an interesting question.
This combined with the often frosty 1 word answers has never and will never make him a media darling like the Dwight Howard's of the world. In fact there is a legitimate argument that Kobe was the NBA MVP in 05-06 (Nash) and also 06-07 (Nowitzki), an award that is decided by the sports media and is often construed as a popularity contest.
People are quick to point out that Kobe’s first 3 championships don’t really count towards his legacy because of a certain behemoth named Shaquille O’Neal who dominated both the paint and the league itself and was deservingly the finals mvp all 3 years. Yes it is true that Kobe would not have won with out Shaq but the pendulum swings both ways and nor would Shaq have won without Kobe. But Kobe was just a role player you scream; any decent off guard could have done his job. Perhaps? But I doubt it.
The thing is Phil Jackson’s much vaunted triangle offence was set up to be run through the post as the primary option, and you’d be crazy not to, considering the beast on the receiving end was one of the most dominant, un-guardable, backboard breaking centers to ever play the game. Even MJ would likely have been the 2nd option behind Shaq in his prime and when running the triangle at it’s purest.
Kobe has always been a love him or hate him type of player. He is not universally adored like Dwayne Wade or worshipped like Lebron James. Kobe is a killer. His mentality is to win at all costs and is a rare mentality shared by the greats of the game such as MJ and Larry Bird.
In the summer of 2003 Kobe was accused of raping a young lady named Katelyn Faber. Without going into too much detail about old news; the key points are Katelyn was reported to be bragging about having sex with KB in his hotel room at a party held by Steve Evancho. She was also considered to be in good spirits when she returned from Kobe’s room and encountered the night manager of the hotel. She gave conflicting statements to the police, and most importantly she refused to testify at trial and conveniently settled out of court.
This coupled with the fact that Kobe co-operated with full disclosure with the authorities including offering to submit to a lie detector test and consenting to a rape test kit. The evidence clearly points to a young lady who saw her oportunity for a nice pay day and jumped on it. Does this mean Kobe’s behaviour was ok? No. Is Kobe perfect? Hell no. Is he a human being? Of course.
Unless you yourself are a saint then it is unfair for you to judge him. I cheated on my ex-girlfriend once, but nobody cares (except her) because I’m not famous. Bill Clinton cheated on Hilary, but he exudes so much charisma that he was forgiven, both by his wife and the general public.
The fallout from this event was amplified by the public image of Kobe as a brash, young, ego driven man who was already in the beginning of a now legendary power struggle between himself and Shaquille O’Neal for the top dog spot; which many Laker fans have never truly forgotten as they feel they were potentially robbed of another 2 or even 3 championships by the breaking up of the most dominant 1 2 punch since MJ and Scottie.
Their have been a lot of articles recently in the media comparing Kobe to MJ which has many old school basketball fans crying out in disgust, and many younger basketball fans pouring fuel on the fire. Some comparison is inevitable as Kobe modelled his game around MJ’s, plays the same position, in the same offence, under the same coach. Kobe is not MJ and in my opinion he falls significantly short of the level MJ raised the bar to.
Kobe is however the greatest player we have seen since MJ, and whilst so many people are busy arguing about Kobe v Lebron, or Kobe v MJ, or simply putting Kobe down for one reason or another related to his off court demeanour, they are missing out on appreciating his artistry on the court.
These days Kobe is a genuine leader who inspires (and berates) his teammates to play to their potential. Yes he still occasionally has poor shot selection and is prone to defensive lapses; but overall he is a complete player who understands his limitations (through age and injury) and finds ways to get the job done. When he had a terrible shooting performance in game 7 of the finals (6-24) he pulled down 15 rebounds and made key plays down the stretch of the 4th, constantly getting to the line and hitting his free throws.
Gone is the ego maniac ball hog who try’s to do it all himself, and in his place is the ultimate professional who trusts his teammates. You will never see or hear modern Kobe belittling his opponents or performing silly antics on the court. Perhaps the post Shaq, Kwame Brown and Smush Parker era was necessary to bring out the leadership skills that were lying dormant inside Kobe? Regardless he has matured as a basketball player, as a leader, and more importantly as a human being.
With every championship he wins the anti-Kobe rhetoric steps it up another notch. It’s time to give the man a break. I for one think he has earned his respect the hard way.