Even though the Los Angeles Lakers have had a vastly disappointing start to the 2012-13 season, that hasn’t deterred superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant from speaking his mind on a variety of topics.
Where 95 percent of NBA players would be better off keeping their mouths shut and simply playing ball, Bryant has the freedom to say virtually anything he wishes with regards to the organization, fans, coaches, teammates, etc.
The Black Mamba has already handed out a plethora of telling quotes, nearly all of them head-turners (or perhaps head-scratchers). Often times, Bryant is either trying to light a fire under teammates or throwing them under the bus (or both).
Bryant’s first newsworthy quote of the 2012-13 actually came before the season started, and it was certainly a bizarre way to kick off his 17th professional campaign.
Prior to the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 10, Bryant decided to verbally bash a teammate he hasn’t played alongside in five years.
“Smush [Parker] was the worst," Bryant told reporters, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. "He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard, so we let him walk on.”
Some may argue that Bryant was baited by media members into commenting on Parker. But even if that was the case, the quote was not only completely irrelevant given the time frame but also just plain odd.
The dig against his former teammate is blatantly obvious, but Bryant also refers to the only franchise he’s ever played for as “too cheap” to pay a different point guard to play beside Bryant during the Smush era.
These comments came prior to a 2012-13 season before which the Lakers were one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference and one of the few teams receiving championship hype, as well.
Bryant’s comments became an interesting topic of discussion for media members, even leading to this Grantland article by Rafe Bartholomew, who chronicles Parker’s basketball career and wonders “just how vindictive Kobe is.”
The aftermath of the Smush Parker quote led to arguably one of Bryant’s most interesting quotes of all time. Via the Mamba’s Facebook page from Oct. 13:
Leadership is responsibility.
There comes a point when one must make a decision. Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain? Here's where the true responsibility of being a leader lies. Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived. The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort. It's pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I'd rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that's just not reality. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
This is my way. It might not be right for YOU but all I can do is share my thoughts. It’s on YOU to figure out which leadership style suits you best.
Will check back in with you soon.. Till then
Bill Simmons of Grantland.com analyzed this colorful passage in a Dec. 7 column, which is worth the read if you haven’t read it already. Although Simmons hates the Lakers, he gives a (mostly) fair analysis.
A few telling pieces from this entry, in my view, are as follows:
Leadership is responsibility.
As Simmons writes, so far so good; it’s hard to argue with Bryant on that front at all.
I’d rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate.
Okay, this is understandable on some level, because Bryant wants to win championships and doesn’t really care how he gets there (although ousting Shaquille O'Neal was a bizarre move by a player who supposedly only cares about winning).
When the Lakers aren’t winning ball games, however—as is the case now, as they’ve sputtered to a 13-14 record—Bryant is in a tight spot. Being a bully of a teammate is tolerable if you’re on a winning team (a la Michael Jordan’s Bulls squads).
If you are losing continuously, however, the perception changes, and bullies become less tolerable.
It’s on YOU to figure out which leadership style suits you best.
In translation, Bryant will do whatever he feels necessary to push his teammates to the limit. How that includes Parker in any way at this moment, however, is a complete and total mystery.
From that point forward, the actual season began. The Lakers got off to a massively disappointing 1-4 start, which led to the firing of head coach Mike Brown. Of the coaching change, Bryant had this to say on Nov. 9 (via USA Today):
Tough day. I've seen coaches as well as friends come and go. No matter how many years I've been playing, it's still hard to deal with. I had a good relationship with Mike, and I will continue to have one. I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I spoke with him today and thanked him for all of his hard work and sacrifice.
As a team, we must focus our energy on tonight's game. We must block out the weight of today's news and simply do our jobs to the best of our ability.
I'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now.
In complete contrast to his comments about Smush Parker, Bryant decided to take the high-road approach when coach Brown got ousted.
In stepped interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff while the Lakers pondered a new full-time guy for the position.
Bickerstaff led the Lakers to a 3-1 record in between Brown’s absence and Mike D’Antoni’s takeover, prompting Dave McMenamin of ESPN to write a somewhat sarcastic article about the coach with the best winning percentage in Lakers franchise history.
His stint was brief but successful, and Bryant attributed that success in a rather profane way to Bickerstaff's ability to let players play. Via ESPN’s Arash Markazi on Twitter (Nov. 11):
Kobe on Bickerstaff: "He's good. He's getting the f--- out of the way."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) November 12, 2012
Well then. That’s a rather blunt way of putting things, but of the three coaches the Lakers have had so far, Bickerstaff has ironically had the most success.
The Bickerstaff era didn’t last long, however, and offensive guru Mike D’Antoni soon took his place.
Again, Bryant expressed his thoughts on the hiring. From Michael Katz of USA Today (Nov. 13), Bryant had this to say on his Facebook page:
I'm happy to have closure and can't wait to get to work with Coach D'Antoni.. spacing, ball movement. And despite the chatter, I believe we will be phenomenal defensively. I'm looking forward to getting started with him and his staff this week.
That positive outlook has not yet come to fruition, seeing as the Lakers have still been a terrible defensive team. However, now that Steve Nash has finally returned from injury to be reunited with the coach with whom he won two MVP awards, the Lakers may be able to turn things around.
Even though Bryant was optimistic about the D’Antoni hire, frustrations continued to mount for the superstar and his Laker teammates in early December.
Following a Dec. 2 home loss to the sub-.500 Orlando Magic, Bryant decided to either take a shot at or light a fire under teammate Pau Gasol (depending upon your outlook).
Via NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, Bryant told reporters, “Put your big-boy pants on,” when talking about Gasol. He added that many players have had to make numerous adjustments this season and that Gasol isn’t exempt from that process.
Bryant has tried to light a fire under the Spaniard in the past, so perhaps this was simply another effort to do that. Whatever the case, Gasol missed the next eight games due to knee tendinitis.
Blame has been passed like an Olympic torch from one Lakers player to another. Much has been made of the Lakers' poor bench depth (28th in the league in bench scoring), the lack of “big-boy pants” from Gasol and even Bryant’s stigma as an infamous ball hog—leading to Lakers losses.
The Lakers started the 2012-13 season with a 1-11 record in games in which Bryant scored 30 points or more.
Bryant deflected any connection between his overaggressive shooting numbers and Lakers losses, though. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles (Dec. 17), Bryant said the following:
I wouldn’t say I’m a ball hog. I’m a shooter. I don’t necessarily hog the ball, but I put them up, though. I definitely much rather shoot it than pass it. That’s just how I am.
Thank you for clearing that up, Kobe. Nobody would have been able to figure out that you enjoy shooting more than passing without that quote.
Bryant went on to say:
I'm a scorer, man. You don't get 30,000 points without knowing how to put yourself in positions to shoot it. The ball just finds scorers, and I can always, no matter what system you're in, you can always find a way. Getting up 30 shots ain't easy. A lot of people don't know how to do that.
I’m trying really hard not to make another sarcastic comment here, so I’ll leave that duty up to comedian Jay Leno, who said the following of Bryant’s 30,000-point milestone (via NBC.com):
Thirty-thousand points in his career. Even more impressive, tonight he’s going for his 75th assist.
To be fair, Bryant has 5,554 career assists, but even Leno is aware of Bryant’s desire to shoot the ball rather than pass, and he’s not the only one.
In his latest game against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant shot the ball an absurd 41 times in 44 minutes (making just 16 of those attempts for a shooting percentage of 39 percent). He scored fewer points (34) than he had field goals attempted. However, the Lakers ended up with the win, which is the only statistic that counts.
Even so, the notch in the win column wasn’t enough to avoid this comment from ESPN SportsNation via Twitter:
Kobe decided NOT to pass 41 times tonight in the Lakers' win.— SportsNation (@SportsNation) December 23, 2012
Criticism aside, Bryant is one of the best pure scorers the league has ever seen. He’s having arguably his best statistical season of his career even at 34 years old (although the 16-for-41 shooting night didn’t help).
The Lakers have failed miserably to meet lofty expectations, but there’s plenty of time for a turnaround in Lakerland.
Make sure to expect many more colorful quotes from the Black Mamba moving forward.
Note: All statistics in this article are accurate as of Dec. 24, 2012 (prior to games played).