Kobe Bryant will never quiet his critics, and it has nothing to do with his personality, his jersey or his legal history. Kobe's divisiveness can be traced to the most basic quark of sport, the certain theme in one's observation of any game with sides and a scoreboard: the battle between team and individual.
Those who flash cudgels at Kobe think he is selfish, conceited, unsavory, a detriment to the perfect balance in panoramic basketball. If you love Kobe, you consider him a hoops God on Earth, a man who could easily wedge into idealistic basketball if his game wasn't so damn flawless on its own. Kobe ignores friends, or Kobe has no need for friends. Kobe is a hog, or Kobe is realistic about his skills. Kobe is overrated, or Kobe is the G.O.A.T.
Can there ever be a bridge?
(No, probably not: Kobe haters will not listen to reason, and Kobe worshipers will not listen to reason. The devoted in this matter -- the matter of Kobe Bryant, basketball player -- will never read a word of this with an open mind. As a basketball writer on the web, I have firsthand knowledge of this phenomenon: you cannot write a post [positive, negative or ambivalent] about Kobe without igniting a maelstrom of hate in both directions. My fellow bloggers can attest to this. It happens on every site, on every post, every single time.
Those of us with a nuanced philosophy on Kobe will sometimes write about him, and I have no doubt a few people [including other writers] will rationally digest any given Kobe post. But that is a tiny, tiny droplet, a medicine cap full of reasoned absorption amid a vast ocean of erratic, irresponsible passion. Ninety percent of the words spent on Kobe Bryant on the web are stupid, inflammatory and completely useless. I understand that, I await my punishment in the comments here and on various other message boards or blog threads. I have a bottle of sleeping pills and a Coke. I'm ready. Really.)
One of the greatest crimes against Kobe's legacy is that his otherworldly scoring ability isn't sufficiently credited. Eighty-one points gets headlines, and a streak of 40-point nights the same. But for reasons unknown, Kobe's singular ability to explode for massive scoring games carries a heavy discount in our consciousness. We credit Kobe for his all-around game, or his steady consistency, or his heart, or his passion, or his clutch ability, or his touch from unfathomable ranges. But no one ever makes the case for Kobe as simply the most fantastic scorer of our time. It's really that simple.
#3? Behind Chris Paul & LeBron James? I don't think so. But to each his own.