By Sam Hyman
We often fail to appreciate that which is right in front of us. As much as we glorify the past, we tend to devalue the present.
For the greater part of the past decade, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant has dominated the NBA. However, whether it was due to the premature comparisons to Michael Jordan, or the perception of him being a bad teammate, or the infamous sexual assault trial, it seems that Bryant has always been criticized for his shortcomings far more than he has been praised for his triumphs.
As a professional basketball player, Bryant is tasked with being the best basketball player he can be. Individual fans may care what he does in his personal life, or what kind of teammate he is, but in reality none of that matters. As the 33-year-old’s career enters its twilight, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bryant is no longer the player he once was. Faced with diminishing athletic ability, slower recuperation speed, and a bevy of lingering injuries, the days of dropping 81 points in a single game while locking down the opponents premier perimeter player on a nightly basis are quite likely a thing of the past.
All degradation aside, Bryant is still one of the league’s elite. Kobe has always been an emotional player, yet has an almost supernatural ability to compartmentalize and fixate on the task-at-hand. This has allowed him to ignore distractions as well as turn criticisms into motivation.
Prior to the start of the season, an ESPN writer poll ranked Bryant as the seventh best active player. Kobe Bryant responded how Kobe Bryant always responds, on the court. After lighting up the Phoenix Suns for a season-high 48 points on Jan. 10, Bryant was asked what he thought of his performance. His response was simple, “Not bad for the seventh best player in the league, huh?”
Quick wit and snarky-ness has always been Bryant’s way of vocal expression. Many members of the media and the general public have criticized him for his ways, but in reality, it has always been his own way of breaking down the fourth-wall. It is like he is the only one in on his own joke. He is better than you and he is smarter than you, and while he will never come out and explicitly say so, he will make sure that you understand it.
Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. No matter how long he and how well he continues to play, he never will be in the special league that Jordan created for himself. In a moment of complete truth, Bryant would likely agree, simply saying that he is well past Jordan’s league.
Kobe was born believing that he was the greatest ever. It was that belief, along with his natural athletic ability, that drove him to where he is today. It was also that belief that built the public disdain and disapproval of him that seems to grow continuously. This is not a Kobe Bryant love story. You are not meant to walk away from reading this believing that Bryant was dealt a bad hand or that he is simply misunderstood. Whether right or wrong, we do care how celebrities act off the court and treat their fans. Kobe has never been who we have wanted him to be, therefore we have never treated him how he wanted to be treated or, more importantly, how he rightfully should be treated.
When Lakers fans praise Bryant and call him the best, we are quick to call the foolish homers. In reality, we are as much stubborn haters as they are foolish homers. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of Kobe Bryant as a player and a man. Without trying to influence that opinion too much, try to look past his personal shortcomings, try to ignore his open stubbornness, and try not to compare him to Michael Jordan. When you form your opinion of the player Kobe Bryant is and the player Kobe Bryant was, just consider the greatness in both skill, and will, that we have all been given the privilege of witnessing over the past decade and a half. Try to appreciate Kobe Bryant as the greatest player of his generation, and one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball.