Friday, May 25, 2012

Witnessing a Catch-22: The conundrum that is Kobe Bryant

29, 484 career regular season points - 5th most in NBA history
5, 640 career playoff points - 6th most in NBA history
5 time NBA champion
2 time NBA Finals MVP
1 time NBA MVP
Kobe Bean Bryant

Kobe Bryant is a legend, plain and simple.  He is unquestionably one of the top 10 NBA players of all time and without a doubt the second greatest shooting guard. All of these statements we know to be true. So why does it seem that Bryant’s career always has the “yeah, but…” syndrome attached to it?

“Kobe is great, but he isn’t Michael Jordan.”

“Kobe scored 81 points? Wow. But how many points did the team score?”

And most recently, “Kobe scored 42 points, but he had zero assists and that’s why the Lakers lost.”

This is not to say that anyone should feel sympathy towards Kobe or that he is above criticism. But it is to say that maybe instead of focusing on what Kobe is not, we should focus on the fact that what we are witnessing is the last few seasons of one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. Take a few minutes, put aside your dislike for the Kobe Bryant that you “know” or think you know about based on media reports. Instead let us focus on the only part of Kobe Bryant that we, as fans, should care about and that is the PLAYER that is Kobe Bryant.

It is common knowledge that Bryant measures himself by the jewelry that he will end up with at the end of his career. It is also common knowledge that Bryant wants at least six rings to equal the number that Michael Jordan accomplished. Kobe has made it a point to take the Jordan template and model is career accordingly. From the on court walk, the measured responses to questions, to the moves that both utilize to confound their opponents, Kobe has taken the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” saying to heart. However, this is one factor that causes Bryant to be disliked by some. Why is that? Clearly, there will never be another Jordan, but are we to believe that no one will come along and be close? Should no one use Jordan as the standard and strive to be like him on the court? It seems foolish to me for someone to dislike a player simply because they are striving to be like the G.O.A.T. The same people that criticize Kobe for trying to be like Jordan also criticizes LeBron James because he is not more like Jordan in their eyes. Appears to be a catch-22, either you lose or you lose. We all should strive to be the greatest in our field of work, and I will not penalize someone for doing just that.

After 15 pro seasons, Kobe Bryant is who we know him to be. We should know what to expect from him. He is a player that will not admit defeat and would rather blame himself for a loss rather than giving credit to his opponent. He will sit at a podium and call out his teammates. We loved it when Michael Jordan was on the other end of that microphone, but with Kobe it is viewed as smug and arrogance. It is that smugness and ego that separates that greatest players of all time from those that are just happy to be in the league. The Dream Team was the greatest collection of NBA stars ever assembled (except for you Christian Laettner, I applaud you for riding the wave to a gold medal). Each one of those great players had egos and believed that they each had a claim to being the greatest player in the game during that time. Without that edge you would be stuck with a team full of Dwight Howards. Players that are spoiled and believe they are entitled to being treated like greatness, but without actually achieving that greatness. Kobe is arguably the greatest Laker of all time, has scored the 5th most points in NBA history, and has been to the NBA’s mountain top on more than one occasion. If he’s not entitled to be arrogant then who exactly is? 

Bryant is not without his faults. Maybe he shouldn’t be so vocal in calling out his teammates after losses. It definitely gives the appearance that Kobe is trying to place the blame on others while trying to escape the wrath of the media. But if you listen to what Kobe says it is the truth. The truth hurts sometimes, but someone has to say it. Maybe Kobe should get his teammates more involved. Although looking across the board, it is clear that the other Lakers did not inspire much confidence with the way they performed when it mattered the most. In any event, every player has faults. It is what makes them human. Because sometimes we forget that the people we watch on television are still just people. 

We are in the last seasons of Kobe Bryant’s career. This is not an obituary to that career, but it is a reminder that witnessing a top 10 player that can still dominate a game and an entire season after accumulating so much mileage is a rare feat. Instead of continuing the trend of focusing on the negative, take the time to focus on the fact that we are seeing pure greatness. No, it isn’t Michael Jordan but it is quite possibly the next best thing. It is Kobe Bean Bryant.