Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most talented and successful basketball player after Michael Jordan in modern NBA times, has been identified by anonymous agents, Los Angeles Lakers staff and players as the primary reason the franchise has fallen on difficult times in the last three years.
It’s funny and sad how critical and bold people are when their comments are not attributed to them. Their hate, envy and one-sidedness bursts through. Anonymous sources are a part of the journalism (what’s left of it) game. But balance should be a part of it, too, and the ESPN The Magazine story has a piece designed to blast Bryant, not provide fair insight. There was no one who disputed the claims of the anonymous?
The story spoke of Bryant alienating Dwight Howard, the center who languished in his one season in L.A. and bolted for the Houston Rockets for about $30 million less. Supposedly, living and working in Los Angeles was important to Howard. And yet he left because of Bryant? Where is the commentary on how weak Howard was as a player and man to be punked by Bryant, who, in the end, demanded what Jordan did of his teammates: excellence. How is that wrong?
Carmelo Anthony spurned the Lakers for the New York Knicks because of Bryant? That’s laughable. Anthony took the most money, as those who knew him said he would. And he, like Bryant, needs the ball to be effective. Two ball hogs on one team did not bode well. Anthony could see that through the dollar signs.
The story went on that way, with unnamed sources calling Bryant the source of the Lakers’ fall from competitiveness. Never mind that management did not provide talent around the game’s most prolific and versatile scorer and winner, which, by the way, is management’s job.
Steve Nash was quoted as complaining about Bryant’s need to have the ball in his hands. Certainly, Nash made those comments while on the trainer’s table or on the bench in street clothes. Nash has the audacity to complain about Bryant when he has provided the Lakers with absolutely nothing since arriving two years ago? Funny.
There was a big deal made about Ramon Sessions having a problem with Bryant’s demanding persona. And? Sessions was a notch better than Smush Parker, a point guard with no distinguishable talent that would command Bryant’s respect. Sessions was less than ordinary, almost useless, and to use his disenchantment as an indictment against Bryant was downright silly.
Surely, much of this is charged by Bryant’s personality, or lack of one. He’s seemingly all business. He wants not to just win, but win championships. He has five of them, so he might know of what he speaks about how to get them. He also—and this is important—puts in the work to succeed on the court. When Phil Jackson says Bryant is a harder worker than Jordan, well, you understand the man’s commitment.
The issue could be that Bryant has been around long enough to see the transition from hard-core NBA basketball to today’s soft, coddle-the-star-player NBA. Bryant still maintains old-school ideals: playing hard, with attitude, and win. Today’s players, overall, are about flash and marketing.
Bryant has been around long enough to not publicly let such criticism bother him.
“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said Tuesday night about the article. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.
“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.
“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time. I just kind of roll with it.”
Roll with it. That’s the approach potential free agents should have taken: Roll with playing alongside one of the all-time greats to achieve a goal. Jordan’s teammates didn’t particularly like him. He cursed them and fought them. Literally. But they won because they saw the value of where Jordan could carry them. Bryant has five titles, two without Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant stayed in L.A. when he could have bolted more than once. The Lakers were better off with him. Now he’s the reason they are struggling?
Age and injury have had a toll on Bryant. But he works just as hard or harder to be who he has always been: an all-time great player who wants to win. How can that be a bad thing?