Friday, June 13, 2008

Kobe Bryant: What happens when you hit a ceiling in your career you placed there yourself?

Kobe Bryant has long been an enigma. To be so gifted at such a young age, and to have such an understanding of the game and it's history is nothing short of remarkable. What is even more remarkable is the transformation he had over the years...going from clean cut, well spoken (he knows Italian for goodness sakes!), articulate superstar to getting a tattoo, screaming in slam about what rap he listens to and dropping MF every other sentence, fighting rape allegations, displaying an infallible cockiness and running another superstar out of LA (allegedly). Even with all the interviews (he really tried to sound like Mike) the moves, the fade away jump shot, and the nike commercials, it never seemed quite genuine. There was always a little hint (in my mind anyway) that he was trying to put out this facade, that everything was planned. But I have come to realize after stepping back and looking at Kobe Bean Bryant that he is now in no mans land, a no win situation, and has been there for some time. He is officially the Hilary Clinton of the NBA, well loved by a certain contingency of fans and completely detested by all the others. From the mistakes and arrogance displayed as a rookie, to him changing his number to 24 (come on!) to all the drama he has brought to the NBA and LA, he has placed himself in the unique position that no matter what he does or even how many more rings or accolades he achieves, a sizable group of fans and NBA watchers will still write him off. Whether he likes it or not, the standard for his position and game is Michael Jordan, and nothing he can say or do will keep people from comparing the two. These finals have made a lot of Kobe supporters as the greatest ever change their tune. No less then previous Kobe supporter John Hollinger had this to say about Kobe after Game 4:

"We just wet the bed," said Kobe Bryant, who should never again be compared to Michael Jordan unless his play undergoes a seismic shift."

What I find sad about his career and public perception is that the league and the mantle to be the greatest was handed to him on a silver platter when he first entered the league in 1996. Jordan was fading into his second retirement just as the Kobe train was starting. The league was HIS. If Kobe Bryant had kept his head down, worked hard, played hard, and had been a team player in LA, what would we think of him now? Envision a career for him that had him playing his way into the rotation, contributing in the triangle with Shaq and winning those rings, while being the little brother and getting along decently with his teammates and coach. Picture him playing smart against the Piston's traps in 2004 and picture him being a team player and not pouting in that game 7 vs. the Suns. In all truthfulness, we might have seen Shaq gracefully become #2 as he got older, and Kobe might have 4 or 5 rings now. The way that team was set up in 2000-2003? With a positive mindset and a Lebron attitude instead of Kobe attitude? He wouldn't have half the friction he has now from the public. If he had been himself instead of reciting come fly with me? He could have moved units for Nike, had endorsements, and been sitting pretty as the undisputed and revered king of the league and worthy successor to Jordan. Imagine a humble hardworking Kobe Bryant and your thoughts become the same as mine: what a waste. It may seem like an odd thing to say considering he is still a Hall Of Famer and 3 time world champion, but all of his accomplishments today pale in comparison of what they could have been if he had played his cards right.

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