I am a Kobe Bryant hater. At least that's what Lakers fans tell me. When Mamba exploded for a house-record 61 points in Madison Square Garden recently, they probably thought I rooted against him. (Which I did, but only because I love Bernard King, the old record-holder.) I even received a few "Can't wait to see how you put this one down!" e-mails afterward. (Which I will.) But it got me thinking: For sports purposes, what does the word "hater" even mean?
In the case of Simmons v. Bryant, it can be interpreted in one of five ways:
1. I always see my Kobe glass as half empty. I enjoy disparaging his abilities, rooting against him and reveling in his failures. When he succeeds, I look for ways to discredit him. In short, Kobe cannot win with me. I am his antifan.
(Not true. I loved watching young Kobe; his 2000-01 season remains sublime for me. When he carried a dreadful Lakers squad into the '06 playoffs, I pushed for him to win MVP. One week before the 61-point game, I wrote on an ESPN.com chat that Kobe was my clear-cut No. 2 MVP choice, behind LeBron James, and marveled at the way he has refined his offensive game; with his knees slowly fading after almost 1,000 NBA games, he added a deadly fallaway and learned to pick his spots on drives. He still gets his 30 every night, just with less wear and tear. Shrewd. Believe me, I am not an antifan.)
2. Kobe has become such a polarizing player and person that if you aren't rooting for him, it means you're rooting against him. Look at me and The Mag: I'm a hater, but they give him print lap dances twice a year. Two extremes.
(I don't think this is true. If anything, it's dumb to assume that either extreme reveals a personal agenda.)