Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kobe Bryant: Misunderstood?

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Kobe Bryant is perhaps the most socially awkward NBA superstar we have ever seen. Nobody seems to get Kobe. At times, he says and does things that leave you scratching your head. For instance, when the Lakers won the title last year, instead of going to the podium and being in the middle of all the guys and sharing his joy with them; the joy that he had waited for so long to once again regain, the joy that his teammates helped him obtain; Kobe instead chose to stay be the side of his family (wife and kids) and give them the championship trophy (Laker fans, you saw this happen and never said a thing about it, you just swept it under the rug).  Needless to say, they had no clue what to do with the trophy. Odd right? Well it gets better. Kobe Bryant once admitted that back in high school he would miss shots or turn the bal over purposely late in games,  in order to set himself up to shoot the game winning shot at the end.  It’s somewhat perplexing, but that’s what the great ones do, they play the game within the game. With that said, could Kobe Bryant still be somewhat misunderstood?

Cue in Lil’ Wayne’s Misunderstood:
I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good, oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood. Misunderstood, let me explain…..”

Kobe Bryant entered the NBA at the tender age of 18 and did not fit in. As a basketball player, Kobe already knew who he was, but as an individual, he was viewed as just a high school kid. While the players on the team had families to take care of, and adult things to do (like hitting clubs with celebrities, going to strip clubs and making it rain), Kobe Bryant’s singular focus was basketball. So he obviously had trouble fitting in at first; especially with a team that had a dominant personality such as Shaq. At the time, Shaquille O’Neal could do no wrong. He was the guy that rapped, did movies and was adored by the public. So when the Diesel spoke, people believed him.  He was like a family member in that sense; he inspired trust from the fans. As a result, when Shaq spoke negatively about Kobe Bryant, people listened. Fans saw the kid with a sick crossover (people forget it, but Kobe used to have a crossover almost as lethal as Iverson) that desperately kept trying to take his man one on one at the expense of his team’s offense. But they never heard of the endless amount of time he spent in the gym trying to perfect his craft. Instead, they looked at Kobe as a spoiled teenager that just wanted the world to bow down to his knees.

And then, something funny happened. Kobe Bryant grew into a very good basketball player. He then became an All-Star. But even then, people refused to give him credit. They were basically saying that Kobe was N’Sync while Shaq was Justin Timberlake; meaning that Kobe was riding off of the Diesel’s success. But when the Lakers could not get it done in the playoffs, Kobe and Shaq took the brunt of the blame. When Phil Jackson came to town, he gave Kobe guidelines, structure and showed him how to be the player he desired to be while still embracing the team concept. Once the team won their first title, Kobe Bryant’s fame grew as people saw him take his game to another level in the clutch. People started saying that Kobe was too cocky in the 2000 Finals; that he thought too highly of himself. But then again, how would you expect a 21 year old to react after shining bright on the biggest possible stage of his career?

Although Shaquille O’Neal will never acknowledge it, part of the rift that he and Kobe had probably stemmed from the fact that Shaq wanted and needed to be the guy. But by the second season, #24 wanted a bigger role on the team; he wanted to be featured more on offense. Mind you, Kobe Bryant should have continued to subjugate his game to accommodate his teammates; however he was not always able to do that night in and night out. Once Bryant got hot, he made sure to keep firing. Some nights though, he was like a young kid playing Duck Hunt on the Nintendo; he would just keep shooting hoping to hit one of the ducks but would miss miserably as the dog came out and started laughing at him (with the dog being Shaquille O’Neal). People criticized Bryant’s eagerness to shoot the ball, but they never applauded his ability to put his ego aside to once again fit in within the team structure. Let’s be real here folks, the Lakers do not win two more titles with Kobe and Shaq unless both agreed to play their respective roles on the team.

Cue in Joe Budden’s Forgive Me:
I’m only human, ain’t meant to be worshipped,
I’m only human I ain’t perfect,
[…] Ever so tender,
Seems the things y’all never forget,
I never remember…”

By the summer of 2003, the enigma that was Kobe Byrant became even more complex. It was always said (and visible) that Kobe Bryant was somewhat socially inept. He lived for basketball and nothing else. He literally was and still is today the most addicted player to the game; no matter how much of it he has, it’s just never enough. However, after years of not truly knowing who the Black Mamba was, he let us in into his life, but not the way he hoped it would happen. Kobe Bryant was being accused of sexual assault in Eagle, Colorado and if that wasn’t bad enough, word leaked out that Kobe violated the ultimate guy rule: he spoke out on the alleged indiscretions of another man. The man in this case was his teammate: Shaquille O’Neal. Regardless of what would happen by the end of that season, it was painfully obvious that one of them had to go. They could no longer coexist. Once again, the Diesel came out looking like the good guy (rightfully so) and Kobe’s image took a huge hit. Even today, some people just cannot bring themselves to cheer for Kobe Bryant. The man went through the fire and was vilified in opposing NBA arenas. At present time, whenever the Lakers play in Denver, he gets a fair share of boos from the fans. I cannot and will not speculate on whether any law was in fact broken that night in Colorado; but what I can say is that we have all made our fair share of mistakes in our lives; but we do not have to own up to them in front of the world. And yet, despite all the pressure, all the drama (self-inflicted) and all the hatred that he generated; Kobe Bryant never gave up. He persevered, fixed the image and made it back to the top of the world. We marvel at individuals such as Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James that have been able to come straight out of high school and avoid negative publicity; but we forget that professional athletes are still people. Whether it’s infidelity, bad judgment (you know the usual suspects: drinking, drugs, driving under the influence), how many people hit the age of 25 with a squeaky clean life? This is not a “Forgive Kobe” piece; rather I would just like for all of us to take the time and put ourselves in the man's shoes for five minutes. If you look at the path he has chosen, he has had his share of bad decisions; but then again those decisions led to him being named the player of the decade. Funny how things work out huh?  

Cue in Kanye West from Run This Town:
“You trippin’ when you ain’t sippin
Have a refill
You feelin’ like you run it huh
Now you know how we feel”

I just wanted to incorporate one last thing in this piece that I thought might be of interest to fans of basketball. Every NBA superstar is typically a great player but tends to have a hole in his game that prevents him from being the undisputed top dog. Let’s just have a quick look at some of the superstars of this past decade (in no specific order):
Shaquille O’Neal: Huge liability at free throw line; consequently did not get the ball in crunch time.
Kevin Garnett: Did not want the responsibility of being the man in the fourth quarter.
Amare Stoudemire: Viewed help defense as a disease.
Steve Nash: Kenny Smith right now could get past Steve Nash for a lay up.
Karl Malone: Much like David Copperfield, he knew how to disappear in front of the cameras in big moments.
Chris Webber: When people talk about that epic seven game series between Lakers and Kings, people talk about Mike Bibby. Know why? Webber wanted no part of the ball in the fourth quarter.
Tracy McGrady: Could not carry his team late in games.
Vince Carter: Did not want all the responsibilities that came along with being a franchise player.
Allen Iverson: Could not coexist adequately with his teammates on the court.

Can anyone tell me what hole Kobe has his in game in the 2010 season? As it stands right now, not many NBA players can hold their weight against the Mamba. Perhaps it’s time people realize he will never be the character that they want him to be, but that they recognize just how amazing of a player that he is.

Tupac comes back from the dead to close it up for us with Ambitions As A Rider:

“I won’t deny it,
I’m a straight rider
You don’t wanna @#$% with me
Got the police bustin’ at me,
But they can’t do nuttin to a G”

Photo by: Chris Covatta/Getty Images
From: ESPN


zyzz said...

cool story bro

scir91onYouTube said...

this was an awesome article. i forgot that kobe had called out shaq's indiscretions in public. one thing i have in common with kobe though - i married my wife straight out of high school ;)