I used to hate Kobe Bryant. I hated that idiotic grin he gave when he thought he had done (and probably did) something special. I hated his narcissistic sense of humor which he forcefully flashed during interviews and post-game press conferences.
I hated his “I’m going to act like I’m from the mean streets of Philly, even though I grew up an international ‘Cosby kid’ courtesy of the affluent lifestyle that I lived in like four different countries because my father was a professional basketball player” attitude.
I hated when he made those reckless comments about the Pistons, even though his Lakers’ team of Hall of Famers lost to them in 2004.
I even hated that KobeSystem ad campaign featuring Kanye West, Richard Branson, Aziz Ansari, and a bunch of other Nike-sponsored athletes and famous people, in which Kobe, posing as a life coach to this crowded room of stars, literally said, “You’re welcome” at the conclusion of every commercial. I lied. I love those commercials. They were, and will always be hilarious, but not because of Kobe. Wieden + Kennedy deserves the credit for that.
I love basketball. And although I was incredibly repulsed by his many, idiotic and vainglorious actions, I genuinely enjoyed watching him play. There was no denying Kobe’s greatness. He is undoubtedly one of the best basketball players I have ever witnessed. From his clutch, killer-instinct, to his superior offensive arsenal and suffocating defensive prowess, he has long cemented his place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In an era dominated by big men, he was a visceral assassin, attacking defenses with surgical precision, victimizing any opponent who dared to contend.
He had a neurotic obsession with perfecting his craft as he sought to quench his insatiable desire to be the best basketball player on the planet. He possessed uncanny footwork, a lightning quick first step, a vast shot making repertoire and notable range.
He understood the nuances of his teammates and habitually created opportunities that elevated their performance while still exalting his own.
He vehemently studied his esteemed idol – none other than Michael Jeffrey Jordan – devoted to replicating his ruthless dominance and ascending to the throne as his second coming.
Yet given all of these attributes, these monumental superlatives, now that Father Time is brutally beating the last remnants of basketball skill from his tattered limbs, my hate for Kobe Bryant has dissipated. All I feel now is a faint sense of indifference. So much so, it’s almost humorous.
Why? Because, despite his horrendous performance as of late, and the obvious signs that he’s as washed up as a pair of acid treated Jordache jeans, Kobe’s unrelenting, self-absorbed, condescending ego is blinding him so much, that he legitimately thinks he can still dominate.
Take for instance when the ESPN NBA player rankings debuted before the season and pegged the Black Mamba as 93rd, comparable to the likes of Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, and Elfrid Payton. Wait, who is Elfrid Payton?
When asked his feelings of the ranking, Kobe predictably replied, “I don’t need to defend that. Nobody does, really.” When inquired further about the matter, he defiantly said, “Please don’t ask me about silly stuff like that.”
Of course, Twitter exploded as life-long Kobe zealots protested the claim that he was that bad. Even ESPN’s most animated personality, Stephen A. Smith, came rushing to Bryant’s defense, voicing grave displeasure before discounting the entire ranking as flawed and insignificant.
But if we’re being honest, and I mean brutally honest, the fact is that his ranking is pretty accurate. At first glance, one could argue that Bryant is having a respectable season averaging 16 points and nearly 4 assists per game. Not what we’ve become accustomed to, but, not terrible either.
However, if you take a closer look at his stat line, he’s shooting a dismal 34% from the floor and an abhorrent 21% from beyond the arc with a PER of 11.69. The mysterious, aforementioned Elfrid is actually better than Kobe. As I imagine Hans and Franz would say, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, that’s terrible.”
Despite this statistical evidence, the most telling stat that delineates Kobe’s inability to come to terms with his demise is the fact that he’s taking 16 shots per game. SIXTEEN. Most of which are taken early in the shot clock, or with defenders draped all over him while teammates are available with wide-open looks at the basket.
It’s as if he’s trying to prove, much like he’s done his entire career, that his claim to greatness is still intact. I’ll show you who I am!
A few weeks ago, some of my comrades and I were musing over active Hall of Fame caliber players who were now in the final days of their NBA lives – Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Vince Carter – and their respective iconic moments. We discussed Garnett’s perpetual trash talking, Vinsanity’s theatrical display of hops and Duncan’s productive (albeit boring) longevity.
We recognized the adjustments they made to become more efficient role players. We applauded them for surrendering their claim as the alpha dog for that of a wise mentor.
As we concluded our thoughts, I realized that we unconsciously omitted Kobe Bryant from the conversation entirely. Moreover, I found that my fellow basketball enthusiasts, one of whom is a diehard Lakers fan, held the same convictions about Kobe as I did; we collectively no longer cared to give his saga attention. But it wasn’t just about an unwillingness to observe his implosion. Sadly, we had become disinterested in him. And therein lies the apathy.
Typically, as great athletes embark on the twilight of their careers, there’s a consensus of gratitude and appreciation for their accomplishments. Even when they suck and don’t know it, there’s still a feeling of remorse and sympathy. Even if they’re revolting pricks, we still find some justification of our fondness for them as people.
Hell, Michael Jordan was, and continues to be, a complete and utter jerk. Yet, we idolize him so much that we continue to buy his shoes without remorse and either celebrate him as the GOAT or, at the very least, an influential ambassador for the game of basketball.
The reason for this is despite our personal convictions, there exists a level authenticity with phenomenal players that allows us to create some sort of connection. For Michael, we associate humanistic moments with his grand persona such as the “Like Mike” Gatorade commercial, the “Flu Game”, and watching him find solace in claiming a championship on Father’s Day after the murder of Jordan Sr.
But not Kobe. Because he doesn’t want us to. He’s so determined to live up to his super-human guise that he would never willingly bear his burdens in public. However, when he tries to pull back the self-fabricated, ravishing facade of himself and display some inkling of relatable humanity, it’s so inauthentic that it actually serves as an antipode, pushing some of us who have enjoyed his basketball presence to this place of impassiveness.
Look at his featured Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse. I suppose the purpose of the film was meant to be some sort of intimate portrayal intended on providing an unadulterated glimpse into Kobe’s life. Yet, even with a few compelling moments of perseverance, my lasting impression after viewing the film was, “Did I really just watch a spoiled, millionaire athlete talk about himself for 1 hour and 45 minutes? Was I supposed to care?”
I can’t imagine Kobe wishes this to be the curtain call to his famed career. No person would ever consciously want this as their final chapter. Right? Though other iconic players have suffered through prolonged and somewhat pointless exiles (Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, his former teammate turned adversary, Shaq), I can’t remember anyone who experienced a fate like this.
Or maybe I’m wrong and this is in fact what Kobe wants his legacy to be. Maybe he desires to be cast from a fraternity, one in which he was once a revered protagonist, as a pretentious relic seeking to justify his greatness. Either way, for as unceremonious as it is, it’s certainly a path of his choosing. I’m just not interested in watching it.