In 2007, after a frustrating loss in the first round of the playoffs, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant demanded that Lakers' management trade him to a team who was willing to surround him with players capable of competing for championships.
Bryant was visibly frustrated when he made his remarks, although he would later back off his comments when center Andrew Bynum began to show progress in his development. Bynum was injured near the midpoint of the 2007-2008 season, and to preserve what had been a surprising start to the season, Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak orchestrated a trade that brought Pau Gasol into the Lakers' fold.
It's important to understand that this was a move made necessary because of Bynum's injury, and God must have smiled on the franchise for the timing and availability of Gasol.
Most people around the league felt Gasol was handed to the Lakers, and during that time, they were right. In hindsight, though, the Memphis Grizzlies received Gasol's little brother Marc in the deal, and he could be a franchise center in his own right.
The Lakers have been to the NBA Finals every season since the Gasol trade, and as it turns out, he's been the perfect complement for the disgruntled Bryant.
Various persons have pointed to Bryant's trade demands of 2007 when defending LeBron James' recent free agency decision which landed him in Miami, but in truth, the two situations have very few similarities.
It has been recently revealed that James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had numerous conversations about potentially joining forces as far back as two years ago while the Lakers' trade for Gasol was made out of pure desperation. There was no premeditation on the part of Kupchak. He was simply trying to save a season which saw the Lakers sitting unexpectedly in first place in the West at the time of Bynum's injury.
Numerous things had to happen for the Gasol trade to work, and it was not orchestrated in the manner as the Miami super team was. Yet, people still choose to believe Bryant showed little loyalty in the situation.
I find no fault with James deciding to join Wade and Bosh in Miami, but to think Bryant would have made the same choice is presumptuous at best—and foolish at worse.
The list of teams Bryant was said to be considering in 2007 should be familiar to James because he had an opportunity to join the same teams during this year's offseason. Bryant's main choices were said to be the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers, and therein lies the fallacy of comparing what Bryant did in 2007 to what James did this year.
Bryant didn't seek to be traded to a team who had a ready-made superstar at its disposal; instead, he was willing to risk starting all over in another city as the face of the franchise.
He didn't ask to pair with Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, or any other of the biggest stars of the time. He simply wanted to join a team that was dedicated to winning a championship. What's even more ironic is that Bryant's ruse didn't really even work because it was midseason by the time the Lakers traded for Gasol, and any trade talk from Bryant had all but disappeared.
James should not be criticized for his choice to join the Heat, but he should be criticized for the manner in which he left his hometown team high and dry in the wake of his decision.
James has the right to join any team he chooses as a free agent, but in no way is his decision to join two of the game's biggest stars similar to Bryant's desperate plea for help. James had the opportunity to hand pick his teammates and his team, while Gasol's arrival was a matter of fate which Bryant had no control over whatsoever.
The argument that James somehow tarnished his legacy by joining Wade in Miami is wrong as is the faulty assumption that Bryant's trade demands are somehow related with James' decision.
Besides, Bryant decided to weather the storm in Los Angeles and will end his career as a Laker, while James jumped ship to a team which many feel is tailored to compete for titles.
Bryant will always be remembered as a legend in Los Angeles as the leader of his Lakers' team, but if the Heat should go on to win multiple titles, who will be remembered as the leader of theirs?
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