Despite winning multiple championships and earning numerous individual accolades, Kobe Bryant is one of the most criticized superstars of all time.
In fact, Kobe has received so much criticism throughout his career, all of it can be broken down into different eras, spanning the course of his career.
Let’s start at the beginning and work our way through the “criticism timeline.”
1996-1998: “Is this kid really as good as they say” era
When Kobe began his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, he was touted as the game’s next big star. People understandably questioned if the Lower Merion High School product was going to live up to the hype.
1999-2002: “Man, Kobe sure is a selfish jerk” era
By this time, it was evident Kobe was not a “bust.” The Lakers were winning championships, and Kobe was well on his way to becoming one the best players in the league.
This was also when Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal’s infamous feud reached its peak. Despite both players being equally childish, Kobe was often seen as the main culprit, viewed as a brash, selfish superstar trying to undermine the team’s well being for the betterment of his own career.
2003-2004: “The criminal/puppet master” era
Prior to the 2003-04 season, Kobe was arrested in Eagle, Colorado after being accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old hotel employee. While the charges were eventually dropped, Kobe detractors were dancing in the streets. Not only was he a selfish basketball player, but he was also a criminal.
After the 2004 season came to an end, Shaq was traded, and Phil Jackson temporarily retired. Many blamed Kobe for Shaq and Jackson’s departures, achieving his ultimate goal of becoming the face of the franchise in the process.
2005-07: “Kobe finally got his wish” era
In the years between Shaq leaving and the team acquiring Pau Gasol, the Lakers struggled to stay relevant. Outside of Lamar Odom, Kobe had a supporting cast that was Developmental League worthy.
Some people accused Kobe of liking it this way. He could dominate the ball and score as many points possible, without having to worry about clashing with another superstar.
Some people think these were Kobe’s least impressive seasons, given the team’s overall performance. But I think it was quite the opposite. If anything, he proved just how great he was during those lean seasons.
Take, for example, Kobe’s 2005-06 campaign. He was the league’s scoring champion, averaging 35 points a contest. That was also the season Kobe had his famous 81-point performance, in addition to a game where he scored 62 points in just three quarters. Kobe single-handedly led the Lakers to 45 wins in addition to nearly upsetting the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. It’s one of the most impressive, underappreciated seasons in league history.
2008: “See, I told you Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq” era
After the Lakers acquired Gasol in February of 2008, the team made a run to the NBA Finals. But LA was exposed by the Boston Celtics, losing in six games. This had people questioning Kobe’s ability to lead the team to a title, until he silenced his critics by leading the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Present Day “Kobe’s too old. Put him out to pasture” era
The big speculation now is if Kobe is too old to lead the Lakers to another championship. Considering it’s impossible for Kobe to get any younger, this conversation is just heating up.
OK, our trip down memory lane is complete. Sure is a lot of criticism for a player likely to retire as one of the all-time greats. Was all of it unwarranted? No. Was it all legitimate? Absolutely not.
So, why is Kobe one of the most criticized superstars to ever play?
Is it because he plays on such a popular, successful team, who many fans love to hate? I don’t think so. Magic Johnson or Shaq never received so much maligning.
I have a theory as to why so many people love to hate Kobe. Let’s take a look.
Along with receiving criticism and dominating on the basketball court, there has been another constant throughout Kobe’s 15-year career. He has endlessly and often pointlessly been compared to Michael Jordan. Other players have had their “15 minutes of fame” being compared to MJ. Vince Carter, Darius Miles and Harold Miner all come to mind. But those players proved immediately they weren’t even worth the comparison.
But Kobe/Jordan comparisons are still being thrown around today. It’s hard to find someone who can legitimately argue against Jordan being the greatest basketball player ever, myself included. Also, it’s been my experience most basketball people like Michael Jordan, regardless of how old you are or allegiance to a specific team. He is the proverbial “golden boy” of the NBA.
Maybe the criticism Kobe has received throughout his career has been excessive due to all of the Jordan fans feeling slighted by the comparisons between the two. In a way, Kobe has been the little brother, who despite not being quite as good or accomplished, has still forced comparisons with his older brother.
While some may see the comparisons to Jordan as a knock on Kobe’s career, I see them as the ultimate compliment. Kobe is not the only great player who pales in comparison to MJ, but he is the one who is most compared.
I am afraid in the midst of all the criticism Kobe has received throughout his career, fans have not had the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the great basketball he has blessed us with the last 15 seasons.