My love-hate relationship with Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant is the most polarising basketball player of all time no other player has some many fans or haters, no other player is considered the second greatest player of all time whilst left out on half the population’s top five. Behind him stands two battle hardened legions, the Kobetards, who defend Kobe like he was their mother or the Kobe haters who attack him as if he was responsible for world hunger. My perception of Bryant has really evolved and changed through out the last year in particular, it was a journey from being a bias, dismissive Bryant hater who saw number 24 as an embodiment everything wrong with basketball today, from being a shoot first, second and third player to being the golden child. But Kobe Bryant’s strength, resilience and hunger for the game has started to grow on me, his hunger for victory shines even more distinctly today in a league filled with huge egos, fame hungry players who view money as the most vital element of being a basketball player. Kobe Bryant is a great players whose strengths are also responsible for his flaws.
Being a Point Guard and someone with a natural pass first mentality and approach to the game of basketball and life in general, I found Bryant’s style of play very hard to swallow, Kobe is a scorer at heart. Apart from Bryant’s turn around fadeaway or his numerous game winners, Kobe’s most iconic play is the isolation followed with a few jab steps. I viewed his constant reliance upon his one on one skills as detrimental to the team chemistry, insert former players like Smush Parker, Shaquille O’Neal and Andrew Bynum. His signature isolations near the top of the key allowed defenses to recover, stops the momentum of the Lakers and when over used hurts the development of younger players. As someone who worships Larry Bird and John Stockton it was just impossible to stomach the amount of poor shots Bryant has taken in his career, sure no one in the league apart from Carmelo makes more difficult, off balance, out of control shots but he’s not young anymore, surely there is a better use of his energy? The most frustating thing about all this was Kobe could be a great passer, his basketball IQ is off the charts, his understanding of the game is what has allowed him to remain a top 5 player and scorer even at 34. Many defenders of Kobe point to his career average of 6 (Check) assist, but that’s not the point, to Kobe it seems getting his team mates involved is a secondary priority and it doesn’t seem like he has an issue with taking 8 dribbles before throwing up a heinous fadeaway. I rarely see Kobe screening for the ball handler and then working off the his penetration, or feeding the big man in the post and working off Gasol or Bynum’s dominance in the post. Bryant has always been a volume player, he never had Jordan’s accuracy as a scorer, someone who hit 50% of his shots on the field, the only reason Bryant is in the discussion with Jordan is because he’s played a few more years and taken a lot more shots, volume over consistent excellency. This is most obvious through the differences in their scoring mentality, Kobe relentlessly fires away attemptings to launch enough shots until he finally finds the spark and catches fire, Jordan however was able to work more within a designed offense and could still be aggressive without holding the ball, someone who could change games through defense alone.
The Mamba’s defence these past few seasons has been poor, his off ball defence in particular during the 2013 season was horrendous and lazy, it was clear he reserved most of him energy for scoring. This lack of defensive hustle from Kobe along with Dwight Howard’s injured shoulder and back clearly had a negative impact upon the defensive intensity of the purple and gold. Do I necessary blame Kobe for his defensive flaws? Not really? He’s 34, trying to pull a disorganised Lakers team under D’Antoni to the 8th seed, he’s going crazy on the offensive side scoring well into the high 20s with increased efficiency. Nor do I blame him for the slew of injuries that have crippled any signs of momentum building amongst the Lakers, however that doesn’t mean the media show give their golden child a pass, defence is 50% of the game. 50%. Another issue that has really divided me is Bryant’s leadership, I see him as a flame; a flame that burns brightly and can be the leading torch on any team towards a championship, however get too close or misjudge yourself and that flame is just as likely to burn an ally. Clearly Bryant is an alpha male, he quickly dismissed any notion on the 2013 Lakers being Howard’s team on and off the court with the air of a army general. Bryant’s constant obsession and drive to become the greatest player of all time combined with his inhuman work ethic installs respect and almost fear amongst his team mates. Would Pau Gasol of responded with a monster game 7 in the 2010 finals (19/18/4) if Kobe didn’t tell him to metaphorically put on his big boy pants in the post game conference? Probably not. Kobe’s personality blended well with Derick Fisher’s, which was Fish’s biggest contribution of the purple and gold, he was able to play good cop whilst Kobe played the ruthless field marshall that accepted nothing short of perfection, almost in a Michael sort of way.
Whilst Bryant’s attitude can be an inspirational flame, consequences such as breaking the most dominant team in the 2000s are by products of Kobe’s personality, often isolated, introverted and someone who early on didn’t aim to build connections with his team mates. That’s why even now we hear back handed comments from Smush Parker, Andrew Bynum and the freestyle of “Tell me how my ass taste” from the Big Aristotle. That’s also the biggest reason why I see Tim Duncan as the greatest player of his era, he’s one of the greatest most loved team mates to ever grace the court. Someone who will never rock the Spurs boat, who will never challenge the authority of the coach and a player that can successfully channel the energies of the team into one thing; victory. We’ve never heard of Duncan calling out a team mate, calling out the staff or requesting a trade. In fact the only signs Duncan gets frustrated is how his eyes bulge after the referee makes a poor call. Duncan plays the role of the loving big brother as well as anyone and has allowed the Spurs to remain relevant since the conception of the twin towers featuring Duncan and David Robinson. So whilst a team mates may gravitate towards Kobe for his firey passion, they may also shun away due to his obsessive, dominant and demanding personality. In fact a few years ago I had become so fed up with watching Bryant I ranked him 13th or 14th behind Karl Malone on my greatest of all time ladder. (It has enjoyed massive renovations since then.)
But that’s really where my beef with Kobe Bryant ends and I have grown to appreciate and respect one of the greatest of all time. Kobe Bryant rightfully so is a top 10 player, he’s the second greatest Shooting Guard behind Jordan,(Yes he’s better than Jerry West.), he stands as one of the most creative scorers of all time, with even more scoring options and moves than Michael himself. He has a menu of ball fakes, clockwise and anti-clockwise spins, fadeaways, hop steps and jab steps which he can constantly reach into to string together the most ridiculous combinations for better or worse. When Bryant catches fire there is literally no way to prevent the ball ending in his hands or the barrage of money fadeaways and penetrations that follows. He has also entered the pantheon of “Don’t-Talk-Trash-To-Them-Or-He’ll-Murder-You” along with Jordan, Bird, O’Neal, Olajuwon and Iverson. Likewise Bryant has also entered the greatest all around players a
group of players that can affect the game in every way on the highest level, including LeBron James with Oscar Robertson as the captain and co captain, with Bird, Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Kobe, the Logo and some Magic Johnson (He couldn’t shoot.) In some ways Bryant is this generation’s Pearl Monroe or Pistol Pete, someone with an unlimited and dazzling offensive arsenal and a natural knack at drawing a foul or creating space. Not to mention Bryant is fearless in the closing moments of the game and I genuinely mean that, Kobe’s hand does not shake in the final possession of the game, instead he relishes in his ability to put the final stamp upon the game (He had basically four game winners in the win against the Raptors this year) For better or worse, this has led to Kobe having the second most game winners in NBA history despite his mediocre field goal percentage (Volume, volume, volume.) Also Kobe HAS to take the last shot, he won’t accept anything else. So even if Metta World Peace has a wide open jumper or Gasol has a hopeless victim defending him around the post, expect the Black Mamba to throw up a 20 footer. Bryant’s shoot first mentality really solidified during the 2005-2007 stretch when he was saddled with game changing allies such as Kwame Brown, a young Bynum, Chris Mihm and featured the deadly pick and roll of Luke Walton and Smush Parker. And even if Kobe has a much better approach to the game now, someone who is more willing to share the ball and rely upon the strengths of his team mates, but I can still see the moments when he’s unhappy about the ball game and something clicks turning KB24 into a one man army.
Where does Kobe Bryant stand on my greatest players of all time? He’s not better than Michael Jordan who has basically every advantage over Kobe excluding the three point jumpshot, but that’s more a difference in context than Jordan’s flaw. Today’s league stresses the importance of three pointers more and more to stretch the floor against improved and more sophisticated defences. Defensively it’s not close, Jordan was the Bill Russell of Shooting Guards, whose athletic ability allowed him to shut down constantly opponents from the 1,2 and 3. Here’s a few more numbers to buffer my argument, 5 MVP (Should of won the 1993 and 1997) against Bryant’s single MVP award in 2008. (Chris Paul should of won that year and Bryant should of won in 2006), Jordan averaged 31.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assist shooting 50.5% from the field, Kobe for a career averaged 27.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.2 assist and 45.5% (I’ll ignore his first three years because he was too young and his statistics were not that great.) So basically Jordan still retains his position of greatest in my opinion. Is he better than Kareem Abdul Jabbar? I don’t think so, Kareem was a rock defensively and offensively, someone who could successfully anchor a team’s defence and the scorer of the most points in NBA history. Throw in his longevity, his ability to create his shot at ANY time because of that magnificent skyhook and it’s hard to argue for Bryant, maybe the fact Kobe is more clutch? Meh, not strong enough. Nor is Bryant better than Bill Russell (3) or Magic Johnson (4), two individuals who forever transformed the game of basketball. Russell throw being the first revolutionary defender, the first big man who put fear into the hearts of scorers and the anchor of the first great basketball first break featuring Cousy, Heinsohn, Sanders and Sam Jones and winner of ELEVEN rings within a thirteen year time span.
Magic and Larry were able to break through the belief that MVPs could only be awarded to big men, (Chamberlain, Russell, Wes Unseld, Jabbar) pionering an era where players like Derrick Rose, Iverson and Michael Jordan could win MVP. Their tremendous passing abilities injected new life into a sport which was plagued by image problems, (Coacine and more coacine.) However defensively Bryant was clearly superior, he also has the longeivity element on the previous two players. Now it’s getting closer and closer, I have Duncan at 6 who in my opinion is the greatest player of his generation, for reasons explained before. O’Neal is thrown in at 7 for being absolutely unstoppable in his prime, Jordan, Pippen or LeBron James could of defended a 2006 Kobe, but not even 1967 prime Chamberlain could of stopped 7’2, 315 pound monster from unleashing the “black tornado.” At eight falls Wilt the Stilt, for being the second most unstoppable force unleashed but he gets marks deducted for being a horrible team mate until hepaired with West, for being the main reason he played for 9 coaches in 14 years (Dwight Howard anyone?) for prioritising statistics over victories (The SELFISH season when he turned into Bob Cousy, maintaining the never foul out rule which costed his teams many games.) So why would Chamberlain rank at 8 despite his obvious flaws? His individual dominance was unparallel, even Bill Russell couldn’t defend him in a one on one matchup, he dropped a 50-28 season which ranks in the top 5 most dominanting events ever in NBA history along with O’Neal averaging around 40 points against the Pacers in the finals and Kareem Abdul Jabbar going for 38-17 in the 1977 postseason. Chamberlain gets extra points for creating the mold of a physical overpowering centre which O’Neal so blatantly ripped off he should be paying royalties (He even stole hisfreethrow numbers.) a mold which Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum are trying to implement all these years later. Kobe Bryant had a lot of people to shape his game after (A lot of Jordan, some Drexler and a touch of Pistol.) thus he loses points in the “originality” category. So there Kobe Bryant sits at number 9, though he’s a few seasons or events away from swinging infront of Tim Duncan, the gap between them is shrinking and shrinking as Bryant still manages to exlude father time for now…
I guess that’s what I will remember Kobe Bryant for when he finally hangs up his sneakers and decides to play in an Italian league routinely draining 6 threes, taking every game over after once the fourth quarter starts and giving scared shitless Italian players the “Mamba Face.” Kobe was a shooting guard that gave everything to the game, a man who like his idol could not, would not settle on anything other than victory and perfection. A player who could of been a fantastic passer but instead settled for the more appealing and glamorising role of a scorer, A team leader that could inspire with his irrational confidence and his work ethic yet destroy team chemistry in a swoop with one misplaced comment. An individual that trusted in his own supreme abilities and would do anything to secure a win from shooting 30 times in one game to being the Lakers’ playmaker for three quarters, yet in doing some wouldn’t understand that he had isolated other some
players who became frustrated when Kobe wasn’t “on.” Yet despite all this criticism, hatred, love, passion and milage, everyone knows Bryant will go out there every night as long as his heart still beats and he will give everything to the sport. It’s funny that the Archilles tear happened to Kobe Bryant so late in his career, but I feel like if any players can recover from that at age 34 their last names would have to end it either Jordan or Bryant. As a 35 year old veteran, Kobe Bryant’s resume speaks for itself and the scary thing is…. It’s still continuing to grow.
1 X MVP (2008)
5 X Championship Ring (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010)
2 X NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010)
15 X NBA All Star (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
4 X NBA All Star MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011)
2 X Scoring Champion (2006, 2007)
15 Season Averaging 19.9 or over
1459 Games (Regular and Playoffs)
11 X All NBA First Team (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
2 X All NBA Second Team (2000, 2001)
2 X All NBA Third Team (1995, 2005)
25.5 Points, 5.3 Rebounds, 4.8 Assist, 45.4% Field Goal, 33.6% Three Point Percentage
9 X NBA Defensive First Team (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
3 X NBA Defensive Second Team (2001, 2002, 2012)
NBA All Rookie Second Team (1997)
NBA Slam Dunk Contest Winner (1997)
Los Angeles Lakers All Time Leading Scorer
28 Game Winners
Being the face of the Lakers from 2005 to 2013