obe Bryant, What is truly the narrative, at this point?
Now in his 20th and final season, is there anything left to say about the Black Mamba? A month away from retirement is there anything else to add to his resume?
How about perspective? Everything is perspective, so understand that whatever side or feelings you have towards Kobe Bryant (if any) is one that you may have had his entire career. If his public personality invokes a sense of disdain or joy, then he has done something right. Nothing anyone writes or speaks on will change that. However, thinking beyond the conventional narrative may ignite perspective.
Twenty years in, media, as well as everyday fans of basketball or sport in general, are just as confused. Who is Kobe Bryant? The same question still asked; why does he shoot so much? He doesn’t make anyone around him better. Many have considered Kobe Bryant to be a ball hog, a mystery to the media as well as his peers. I’ve watched just about every interview, seen all his games; reading numerous articles regarding this athlete’s style of basketball. It seems as, on his way out the picture of Kobe Bryant, the player has become slightly clearer (By his merit, or a mutual understanding and respect for him in his relation to basketball). He is a human being no matter how talented, or smart. Automatically it means he comes with flaws, Ideologies and his personal baggage (as we all do). He is a multi-lingual black male that is globally conscious. At one point, earlier in his career, this was frowned upon as not being able to relate to his peers or people from local communities, often his likability being linked to his lack of “street” credibility.
The problem that has become evident over the years in our sports consumption and in life is we project what we as viewers want our Athletes to be just as we do with our significant others. These are unrealistic expectations as I cannot tell you how you should be for me and you can’t expect me to do the same for you. Kobe Bryant in this regard is a multi-layered athlete, catering to his ambitions, focusing on his personal goals. If he impresses the Los Angeles Lakers, then no other opinion should matter. Egotistical? Yes, Dominant? Yes, Driven? Yup, Hyper-competitive? Of course. Add any other adjective you want, all of which comes with the territory of being mentally wired differently than most. We as a collective have forgotten that an Athletes mind is operating at a different pace than ours, when you are of the Elite Super Star status, the top dog of the one percent of that small pool of elite athletes in your profession it becomes magnified even greater.
Nike Everyone $ee$ a $tar
Kobe Bryant like LeBron James grew up in front of the Camera; he was the product of the Jordan era. The era when corporate merged equally with on-court potential success. When athletes are rewarded before the work is done, brand could dictate perception. Projections mattered more than results. I will never take anything away from Michael Jordan because if there were no MJ, there would be no KB. However, in the 90’s the media would trip over itself wanting a piece of everything Michael touched. What came with that was the narrative that one man could do it all by himself. One person is greater than the parts around him. Michael Jordan and the media helped establish “Hero Ball” as the de facto brand of winning basketball. Michael Jordan’s impact on the game of basketball would become revolutionary because of his global impact which was sponsored by Nike.
Every time MJ took a free throw Nike was subliminally in your face, the perfect swoosh logo emblazoned on the upper chest. Anytime MJ graced the floor with his stylized footwear; commercials aplenty, he single-handedly beat his opponents into submission, demoralizing them, taking the fight out of his competitors. In the eyes of many, an individual was the game of basketball; one man could take on a team of five. Thanks to Nike and Jordan’s spectacular feats of athleticism on camera everyone wanted to play Hero Ball, the game of “twenty-one” took flight.
What is 21 you might ask? Twenty-one was a game played by two or more people on one side of the basketball court (regardless if there were two hoops or not), the first player to twenty-one points is the winner. It’s not that Jordan created this concept, it was commonplace that on concrete streets there might be only one useable court. The issue is related to how the popularity of twenty-one heightened during Michael’s reign in the NBA. Even when a game of four on four could be played or three on three, no matter the numbers, twenty-one dominated. The appeal increased due to the consistent mantra of Jordan being the only player on the court. highlight after highlight single-handedly taking his team of backups to the NBA finals. No matter how grand the stage, it was Jordan’s star that shined brightest.
Star power has always been a major factor in winning; no one disputes that, but what seems to get lost in Jordan’s title runs, was the TEAM effort. His TEAM consisted of men who did their jobs. He was the Star but multiple players contributed around him. Let’s put into perspective how well the Chicago Bulls organization operated from top to bottom: the draft picks, the free agent acquisitions, the coaching staff. The time zone they we’re in worked to their advantage coupled with the most athletic competitive shooting guard the NBA has ever seen, their stars were certainly aligned.
Be like Mike
Post-Jordan, the ONLY thing that amounted to winning for ownership, was finding the next Jordan. The owners completely forgot how to run an organization. Opting to not put all the necessary pieces together to build up to a championship. Owners across the league wanted to acquire that transcendent ISO-driven guard to lead a bunch of average ballers through the mud enroute to an NBA Championship. Business was booming for the NBA and in the eyes of many it was all because of one man: Michael Jeffery Jordan. Basketball is a team sport, but again the driving narrative was Michael Jordan did it by himself. There have been players who played sick, but Jordan made it effortless. Various players scored huge numbers but no one shrugged their shoulders while doing it, no longer was it chic for team victory but individual statistics to reign supreme. Back to the game of twenty-one; no matter how many were on the blacktop there could only be one victor, but there was always that one person who said: “I had more points than you!” One would quickly fire back “You didn’t win.” Their response still the same, unmoved “Yeah but I had more points than YOU.” Herein lies the problem. “I before the team.” Kobe Bryant, who is within my age group grew up with that 21-game style mindset, getting more points than everyone you played with or against made you the best. He was told (like the entire world) ad nauseam by advertisements to “Be like Mike.”
Kobe Bryant is a phenomenal talent, one of the top 10-20 athletes in the game of basketball. There’s this great analogy that I’m paraphrasing, but If Kobe Bryant’s body were a cup, the contents of that cup (representing potential) would be overflowing and spilling out because he maximized what he could get out of it. The man is a meticulous, driven, competitive, Strong-willed, focused, stubborn Athlete. I keep pressing Athlete because his personal life is none of my concern, from a professional athletic standpoint Kobe Bryant is the top dog amongst his peers. His work ethic is second to none, his desire, his overthinking all in a league of its own. If Kobe had gone to college, he might have gained a certain discipline to trust his teammates slightly more than he did during his twenty seasons in the NBA. He is a skilled defender, ballhandler, rebounder, and passer, yet he uses all of these abilities by choice. A product of the era he proceeded, possibly skipping out on college athletics because he was ready for something greater, especially during a time when drafting a high schooler turning pro was not a favorable thing to do. Aside from Kevin Garnett, there was a twenty-year gap from the NBA allowing and drafting a high school player.
Numbers don’t lie…right?
Journalist, advanced metrics, PER ratings, all have come to the conclusion that Kobe Bryant was not worth the money the Lakers paid. Even at the tail end of his career, it is regularly left up to his peers to defend or praise Kobe the competitor in an awkward fashion because analytics show players like Joe Johnson being more clutch than Kobe Bryant. The statistics back it up so it must be true! Yeah, right. But ask Joe Johnson if he has the very “it” factor that defined Kobe’s career, he will probably shrug his shoulders responding reticently, “yeah I believe I do.” When he knows in his heart, he doesn’t.(Not trying to single out Joe he will probably end up in the hall of fame one day, but come on) Anyone who has a working knowledge of sports or has played some competitive athletics in any capacity know Kobe Bryant is worth it. He’s avoided season-ending surgeries, played with broken fingers, wrist, hands, torn ligaments, dislocated joints, muscle tears, a bad back, swollen knees and bone on bone movement. He knows there’s someone out there who paid big money to see him at least once during their lifetime.
Writing a Kobe is a “bad teammate” article or Kobe “shoots the ball too much” article has been click-bate for multiple websites for years, put Kobe Bryant on your ticker during an ESPN broadcast and people will sit down to watch, to see what’s the opinion today. Everyone in the business of sports & media has gotten paid or is getting paid off Kobe Bryant the public elite star athlete. In fact, it’s easy money, those who know are aware of it but don’t want you the sports consumer to recognize it.
So, at this point what else is there to say about a gifted but flawed athlete that throughout his career, created a divide amongst fans, unlike the man he idolized for so long. It shouldn’t be a surprise that as Kobe’s career dwindles down, he can let more of his personality show, smiling more. His interest expands beyond basketball because he is a worldly individual with an appreciation for all things that makes us human: Fashion, music, money, art, literature, animation, science, and other interesting people. All players who came out of college or around the time of Kobe Bryant I.E. Post MJ were all the twenty-one-basketball generation. Isolation, ball-dominant Hero Ball players. All would put up mind-bending individual accolades night in and night out, but it never surmounted to team success. With Kobe being the best player of his generation to win on a consistent basis. No matter how many writers or analyst tried to anoint everyone over Kobe as the best player in the league, Kobe stubbornly proved every time he stepped on the basketball court that he is the alpha. Truthfully Kobe Bryant has had arguably some of the most spectacular games in defeat because a team wins over the individual. When Kobe went off it didn’t inspire his teammates it seemed to deflate them. Kobe rarely found that graceful balance that Michael possessed.
Michael eventually recognized his teammate’s value, relying on them in key situations, although the narrative said otherwise. Not only because he is/was a superior athlete but his collegiate education helped him become disciplined, even though he was the best basketball player on the court. This trait was one that Kobe never fully developed more than likely due to his lack of college experience. His one versus all mindset; the same mindset the media forcibly shoved down everyone’s throat had to influence him in some way. Surprisingly it could be argued that Kobe Bryant became something of a martyr in the NBA. The Young basketball pups watching sports media kill Kobe for his lack of teamwork, statistically looking like a subpar player; taught the next generation of players what not to do. NBA players are now mathematicians. Making sure they pass the ball and pad their stats.
Kobe died for our sins…
This ideology is what allowed LeBron James and others to come in playing the statistic game, the plus-minus game, the PER ratings and overall do everything opposite of Kobe. Denying that they watched him growing up, instead opting to confess their adoration towards Michael Jordan, freshly recalling watching Jordan play. Whenever Kobe had a great game, his peers would ask questions about how many assists did he have, request his turnover numbers, or voice their opinion that he didn’t get enough steals. The constant criticisms of Kobe lead him to believe he is both hero and villain which is probable. As his season comes to a close so does the end of the Hero Ball athlete that Michael created, endorsed by corporate sponsorship. Make no mistake there are still Hero-Ballers in the NBA, but that style of play is fading out, Kobe was the only champion that won with such a mentality. Hero Ball is not an indictment on him, but Basketball has never been a one on five sport. There will be star players who are above everyone else in skill, but it still takes a team to hoist up a trophy.
Just look at The Golden State Warriors: High IQ basketball players with collegiate experience. A team that does have a mega star that was ahead of his time in Stephen Curry. Now that the league has shifted to his style of play; focusing on three-point spread the floor offense, he is the maestro. Fully equipped with multiple talented young, hungry players that have played together and respect each other. It’s not all Steph as it would seem, but he is by far the most valuable cog in that beautiful basketball engine. Kobe left the league in an exceptional place because he showed the passion desire and obsessive work ethic needed to succeed on the grandest stage. He also showcased the danger of resembling an idol: believing that one person can beat everyone else without any help, without trusting your teammates. Twenty chapters of basketball in the books Kobe. I can only sum it up as; be the hero everyone loves to hate because you’re not theirs, and the villain everyone hates to love because they can’t beat you.