It may have taken his whole career to get to this point. But, the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant is now in a position to become the new hero of the NBA. With the formidable three-headed dragon growling in Miami, he may be the only superstar in the league that can slay the monster. And outside South Beach, that is something that most NBA fans (and league officials) would love to see.
The new "Superfriends" in Miami represent more than a team that is overly stocked with talent. It represents a threat to the whole fabric of the NBA. Competitive balance in the recent past was something the league took pride in. Take a look at the San Antonio Spurs and their 4 championships. That's right, they played in San Antonio, a small market if there ever was one. That never seemed to be an issue. It certainly has become one.
In one fell swoop, the tables were turned on the whole sport. Goodbye small market success stories. If all the stars are going to join forces, it definitely won't be in markets that won't maximize their efforts. You will never hear the words uttered "I'm going to take my talents to Bourbon Street."
I believe its safe to say that most league officials would prefer their athletes to create the perception of players competing not only for championships, but also because they do not particularly like eachother. This creates drama. Drama increases ratings. Of course, rival players have always formed friendships. They have throughout the entire history of the league - Magic Johnson with Larry Bird -Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. In retrospect, those rivalries seem so much more intense. This intensity has begun to slip a bit in this new "Bromance" era. It does bring up a valid point.
Is it really a good idea for all of the NBA superstars to cheer each other on via Twitter to a point that's bordering on flirting?
How would you feel if you knew that after a future Miami Heat and Orlando Magic playoff game, that Dwight Howard and Lebron James were going out for ice cream?
Its not a good precedent. Its unnatural, and it has set in motion more potential "teamups" that will exclude anyone that doesn't live in the absolute biggest markets in the country. New Orleans should start saying goodbye to Chris Paul now. The Nuggets seem to have already come to terms with life after Carmelo Anthony. Both seem to be steering their ships toward a New York Knicks Superteam with Amare Stoudemire. Despite the team being unsuccessful and embarrassing at times, with suspect management, just by virtue of being in the Big Apple, they are going to win the lottery. That's a hell of a way to reward hard work and competence.
How do you think that feels to a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are building a winner through patience and craftiness?
If you are a Heat fan or a Knicks fan, don't bother answering. So far its been the same response. "Thats tough, sorry." But I believe that there is something more egregious that may happen as a result. The very idea of winning a championship will be downgraded.
After all, if most of the superstars are on one team, then is it really much of an achievement if they win it all?
Should teams have to rely on injuries to the league's stars in order for them to realistically compete?
That makes the other general managers and owners in the league begin to reconsider what success in the NBA means to them. If its impossible to compete in small markets no matter how intelligently you build your team, than suddenly you have a Major League Baseball situation. That's where many less marketable teams just linger in mediocrity with low payrolls in order to make a small profit. Its not a good situation for fans outside of Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But there is hope. There is someone out there that can turn this experiment into a failure, therefore changing the course of the NBA. His name is Kobe Bryant. It seems that only the Lakers have what it takes to make this whole debacle go away.
Can't you just envision Kobe wearing a chip the size of a microwave on his shoulder saying "Oh... So now you need my help."
Never one to endear himself to the media, the "Black Mamba" has enjoyed nearly unprecedented success in the league. He owns 5 titles, and has played on a total of 7 teams that went to the finals. As of right now, his Lakers are attempting to replicate the Chicago Bulls teams of the '90's and complete 2 three-peats. Many people have just taken their success for granted, just like those Jordan-era teams. This is no longer the case.
To get things straight, Kobe has never really been a "bad boy" of the NBA. He was more of a conflicted personality. He came into the league in his late teens, and spent most of his early days back in the hotel room while his teammates partied. He wasn't like most of the other players, anyway. He had traveled across Europe already as a boy, where he was exposed to much more than the average NBA rookie. He spoke Italian in addition to English from those years overseas. He was a bit inward as well, which was in contrast to most everyone else he played alongside. He was playing with mainly inner city young men who had just escaped poverty, and were enjoying their first opportunity at being rich. The "international" Bryant did not fit that description. He never seemed to be that impressed with his fame or money. He had a quiet focus, and was an absolute perfectionist, leaving little time for distractions.
He began to slowly alienate more and more people as time wore on. First it was his Coach Phil Jackson and teammate Shaquille O'Neal. After going to 4 finals in 5 years (winning 3), he suddenly became the goat when the team split up. He was accused of being selfish by O'Neal, and being too difficult to coach by Phil Jackson. And after all that success, everything was lost when Shaq moved on the Miami Heat. Putting this situation under the microscope, however, reveals layers that the average observer was not exposed to at the time. Shaquille O'Neal constantly came into camp out of shape and would never put in enough work on the free throw line to shore up his biggest weakness. He also had a huge ego. And Phil Jackson obviously was not too exasperated with Bryant, since he has now won two more titles with him since the breakup.
There are two things that we now know about Kobe Bryant. The first being that he doesn't accept anything less than 100 percent from anyone on the court (including Shaq.) And most importantly, he can be counted on to give his all during every game. I can assure you that there was more going on behind the scenes in those days.
His biggest character flaw was brought right into the spotlight, when he was accused of rape while having surgery in Colorado. As time passed, it became evident that he wasn't guilty of rape, but wasn't guilty of being a faithful husband either. So suddenly he was the new poster child for infidelity, which believe it or not, is absolutely widespread in all sports leagues. He apologized publicly and took his penance quietly, and was able to regain more of his reputation than it initially appeared that he would.
Before his last two titles, Kobe had been accused of simply being Shaq's wingman, which bred some resentment. I think that can finally be put to rest. He now has 2 NBA championships with him firmly in the drivers seat as team MVP.
He has also been verbally beaten in the media for his demands to Lakers management to trade him if they weren't going to contend. Looks like someone lit a fire, because from that point on, they began to win titles again. So it looks like in hindsight, these demands may have something to do with his current success. It didn't take a superstar team-up to do it either. His team relied on him, another all-star (Paul Gasol) and some talented role players. Pretty much the same makeup as most other championship teams. He didn't require the whole "Justice League", it was simply a hall of fame player playing on a well managed team. He earned it.
I think most of the hatred directed toward Kobe has to do with the fact that he is a winner. He beat your team. It doesn't matter what team I am referring to, he has beat them convincingly more than once. His teams win, and when they do, your team doesn't. He's the villain by virtue of his skill. I would argue that he is the most fundamentally sound player in the NBA, and that his real talent lies in that fact. If you ever watch a highlight video of Bryant, he will rarely do anything that couldn't be featured in a basketball instructional video. Even his off-balanced shots have a technique to them that is unmatched. He has an intensity akin to Michael Jordan - less talent but the same intensity. His competitiveness is off the charts. And also, you won't find him on Twitter having "pillow talk" with his opponent the next night. He plays the game the right way, on and off the court.
And I thought Villains play dirty?
So this brings us to the current story of the season. Kobe is looking more and more like David to the Goliath that is the Miami Heat. On his shoulders now rest the hope for most of the league, including David Stern. And there really is no other story this year. We will remember this season as either the season that the Heat dominated and won (causing an exodus of superstars to "superteams"), or the season that the Heat failed. Like Jack Bauer in 24, its down to one person. Kobe, you have a chance to go down as a hero, the NBA's new "Knight in Shining Armor." Looks like everyone gets a second act.
** Here is another article of mine that takes on another facet of the Miami Heat Superteam **
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