2010 NBA Playoffs: Has Kobe Bryant Lost His Way?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IApril 26, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY - APRIL 24: Referee Michael Smith #38 explains the foul called to Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2010 at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

I've always admired the abilities of Los Angeles shooting guard Kobe Bryant in much the same manner I have always marveled at the talents of deceased rap star Tupac Shakur.

Tupac was one of those rare people who was able to be different things at the same time. Tupac could be shallow or profound, thoughtful or reckless, and passionate or indifferent, just to name a few.

Bryant exudes some of those same qualities on and off the basketball court, as he can be excellent or exasperating, charismatic or secluded, and helpful or intolerant.

Both Bryant and Shakur were able to excel at their respective professions, but it is possible each was prevented from attaining true greatness due to an inability to conquer demons in their professional and personal lives.

No one can question the ability of Shakur to deliver heart-felt messages in his lyrics, as well as thought-provoking diatribes condemning the establishment system which many young black males have fallen victim to.

But there was another side to Shakur, and this one involved all the negative aspects of the hip-hop culture, such as the promotion of violence, disrespect towards women, and rampant drug use.

I guess you can truthfully say Shakur was defined by his many contradictions, and although there are some who would say Shakur is the greatest rapper to ever live, there is no finality in that statement because Shakur's life was cut short by the very contradictions he lived by.

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Likewise, there are those who say Bryant may have already ascended to the status as the greatest talent the game has ever seen, and although his skill level suggests this is possible, Bryant's own contradictions as a player hold him back.

Bryant has made it no secret he would loved to be considered as one of basketball's all-time greats, and so far his career path has paralleled his desires, by winning multiple NBA Championships and other individual accolades.

But there are some fundamental flaws in Bryant's make-up which will likely prevent him from ever being recognized as the NBA's greatest player, and there is little he can do to change this.

A prime example is what transpired in Saturday's Game Four loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder when Bryant refused to take a shot from the field for almost 15 minutes, and by the time he did, his team was down by 15 points.

It's likely Bryant did this to remind everyone of how important his scoring is to the Lakers, especially after he had been lambasted by the media and his own coach for his shot selection.

It is common knowledge that in order for the Lakers to prevail easily over the Thunder, the best course of action would be to consistently feed the ball inside to the combination of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

This is the strategy the Lakers used to win Game One, and they were ahead by double digits in Game Three before they inexplicably went away from the post game and resorted to shooting jumpers.

Bryant's 39 points did lead the Lakers to victory in Game Two, and his 15 points in the fourth quarter was instrumental in the win, but his shot-selection and bruised ego were the main culprits of losses in Games Three and Four.

We have seen this behavior from Bryant before, when the Lakers were defeated by the Phoenix Suns in the postseason of 2007, and the events unfolded in much the same manner.

Bryant had been previously criticized for shooting the ball to much, and in pivotal games in Phoenix he decided to leave the contests in the hands of players like Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown.

Needless to say the strategy failed, and Bryant had seemingly made his point, but in his quest to prove his merits as a legendary player, he may have sealed his own fate.

One of the most important qualities that separate the good players from the great ones is the ability to do exactly what it takes for your team to win, either by taking control of games or deferring to other players.

Bryant understands this concept, and usually exists by it, but once he feels he has been wronged, he has a tendency to eschew it completely and take himself out of a game, to the detriment of his team.

It's hard to picture a player like Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan adopting this same attitude, and it's unthinkable they would sacrifice a postseason loss in order to make a point.

Johnson and Jordan lived for the opportunity to succeed in the postseason and even though Bryant has the gist of the idea, he seems to have forgotten the parameters of the big picture.

I'm sure Bryant feels there is ample time for his Lakers to prevail in this series and he may be right, but Bryant forgets the journey is just as important as the destination, and what about his teammates?

I'm sure there may be a few hard feelings in the Lakers' locker room, even though Phil Jackson said his team understood Bryant was trying to involve his teammates in the game early.

But what about when the game began to escape the Lakers? Where was Bryant then?

Hiding behind an ego which wouldn't let him compromise his pride and personal feelings, even though his Laker team would now be faced with the proposition of returning to Oklahoma for Game Six.

There is no guarantee the Lakers will prevail in this series, and they have given the young and talented Thunder all of the motivation and confidence they need going into game five in Los Angeles.

More is at stake than the series though, because if the Lakers should go on to lose, most fingers will point to Bryant's shot selection at the end of Game Three, and his petulant manner to begin Game Four.

Moments like those and the ones in 2007 can be used as arguments against a player's legacy, and considering the many detractors Bryant has already incurred, it's the last thing he needs.

I'm sure I will be criticized by Lakers' fans, but if so it's because they fail to see the point. Kobe Bryant has been my favorite player in the NBA for a number of years, but does that mean I am blind to his faults?

There is no doubt in my mind Bryant will be remembered as one of the game's legendary players, just as Shakur will be remembered as one of the greatest rap artists to grace a microphone.

But when discussing both Bryant and Shakur in terms of greatness, conversation will inevitably turn to the many different contradictions which defined their lives, and those are demons they can never escape.