I’ve always considered myself to be fair when it comes to criticism and praise. As my subordinates at work will tell you, I hold them to a very high standard, yet I praise them to no end when they perform well, and I critique them equally when they’re not up to par. The same can be said about the athletes I write about (granted most of them are Lakers and Dodgers).
Lord knows, I’ve had my issues with Kobe Bryant over the years. His play on the court though has never been an issue. I’ve always marveled at his basketball skills, even to a fault sometimes as I selfishly prayed that the title of Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) would one day reside in my team’s corner, a title held by one Kobe Bryant.
That selfishness on my part has led to frustration over the years in waiting for Kobe to put the “entire package” together. I love Michael Jordan, and after watching him his entire career there is no doubt in my mind he is the G.O.A.T.
I’ve also concluded that as good as Kobe is, the best he will be is the second place G.O.A.T. To some, that’s a knock on Kobe. To me, it’s a compliment. One could do a lot worse than be second to Michael Jordan. To paraphrase Kobe, “Let M.J. be M.J.” Still, it pains me that for all of the Lakers’ history, the G.O.A.T. is not a Laker. But that is by no means a knock on Kobe.
I’ve had my issues with Kobe’s character in the past, but nothing could prepare me for the selfish act he played last year while basically quitting on his team over the summer. I praised his willingness to go public with his frustrations over the team’s seemingly weak roster. Toeing the company line doesn’t mean you can’t put a few ripples in the water to get things done. But when you quit on your team (which he did by asking to get shipped out), that’s a different story.
I could understand if he had a tiff with the coach or if his life was made utterly miserable by management, but that certainly was far from the case. Not winning basketball games is a far cry from misery, and any notion otherwise is childish gibberish. When you’re getting paid handsomely to perform under contract, you make your complaints, but you shut up and play, win or lose. I’ll reiterate this once again: I’m a Lakers fan first and foremost. If Kobe, or anyone else, doesn’t want to be a Laker, then they can go piss off! Fairly simple rules on my part.
To Kobe’s credit, he finally did shut his mouth and played. Not only did he play, he played very well. He played within the system, his relationship with his teammates improved, and he gave no indication on the court that he no longer wanted to be a Laker. Really, that’s all I ask for. If he wants to walk after his option year is over, then that’s his business and his right under the terms of his contract. I have no beef with that since he would have fulfilled his contractual obligations to the Lakers at that point. Just don’t quit on the team before that.
Issues aside, something magical happened to Kobe Bryant last year. I don’t know if it was the turmoil surrounding the team, or if the fact that he got booed on opening day ultimately gave him a reality check. Maybe he simply “grew up”. Whatever the case, Kobe transformed himself as a person, and his play on the court followed suit.
He’s a changed man, and all for the better. He seems to genuinely care for his teammates now, a complete contrast to earlier years when he was aloof and distant. He also seems to have learned the lesson that personnel issues should be handled by the front office, and not him (a notion foreshadowed by one Chucky Atkins years earlier when he proclaimed Kobe “the general manager”). And finally, he seems humbled by the notion of losing, evident by the fact that he gracefully accepted losing to the Celtics. You can’t win them all, but life could be a hell of a lot worse.
I give Kobe full credit for all of these things that transpired over the last year. He pleasantly surprised me how he handled the situation once the season started. Big kudos to him for finally growing up. But his actions, as graceful as they may be, pale in comparison to his exemplary conduct during the Olympics. I can’t begin to describe how proud I am of how well Kobe represented not only the Lakers, but more importantly the United States of America. He handled the situation with great poise and humility, all while giving even his strongest nay-sayers absolutely nothing to legitimately complain about.
Some people were taken aback by his comments that an Olympic gold medal was more important to him than an NBA Championship. Why? To me, there is no wrong answer. While he might be financially responsible to the Lakers, his patriotism is just as important in my book. You are talking to a veteran here, after all. For all the flack that the recent “Dream Teams” have received for not representing their country in an exemplary manner, here is Kobe Bryant saying he would rather win for God, corps, and country than for David Stern. Nothing wrong with that in my book.
The latest act of mature and good will came today. Turns out that Kobe has elected to not have surgery performed on the pinkie he injured last year. His reasoning behind his decision is valiant. When told that surgery could set him back 12 weeks - thus missing the start of training camp - his reply was “I just didn’t want to miss any time ‘punching the clock’ for the Lakers, given all we are trying to accomplish as a team this NBA season.”
Yes, you heard him correctly. The same guy that no longer wanted to be a Laker last year, just said that he’s willing to put off surgery and continue to play hurt so that he doesn’t miss one second of wearing that Purple and Gold uniform. Valiant, committed, and most importantly, reformed.
Hearing that comment from Kobe reminds me of another situation that didn’t end up so well. We all remember a couple of years ago when Shaq elected to put off surgery until the start of training camp because, as he put it, he got hurt during company time therefore he’ll recover during company time. His selfishness caused him to miss a significant portion of the start of the season as well as cost the Lakers home-field advantage in the playoffs. End of dynasty. End of comparison.
Isn’t ironic that while Kobe was always labeled as the childish one, it is he, not Shaq, that has grown up with age, as opposed to Shaq who has turned himself into a joke?
I don’t know where this path will eventually lead us to. The Kobe Bryant ride has been anything but smooth. I’m hoping for the best though, and at the very least I’m hoping that Kobe continues to grow. It’s more important to be a human than a basketball player. He might never be M.J., but I’m happy with him being Kobe, so long as it’s the Kobe we have seen over the last year. In that sense, I’ll continue to give him all the kudos he deserves.
All hail the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.