I don’t want a bromance with Kobe

15 03 2009

As a Los Angeles native and a lifelong Lakers fan, it’s only in my best interest to worship at the altar of Kobe “Why did my parents choose Bean as my middle name?” Bryant. He’s been my boy since Draft Day ’96, a day where I sat in my uncle’s house in Seattle and nearly hyperventilated at the news that Lakers general manager Jerry West traded starting center Vlade Divac to the then-Charlotte Hornets for the rights to Kobe. It was a future bromance  — or man-crush, if you prefer — in the works.

Between then and now, I’ve watched Kobe’s greatest Lakers moments, worn his jerseys, and valiantly taken every kind of rape joke on the chin. I’ve defended his shot attempts per game, explained why he’s displayed more unselfishness throughout his career than he’s been given credit for, and purchased NBA League Pass primarily so that I could watch Kobe in his prime.

Many NBA haters think Kobe is still in 2005-06 mode, when he looked at his starting lineup on a nightly basis, saw Kwame Brown and Smush Parker adjusting their headbands before tipoff, and said to himself, “I might have to score 32 just for us to have a chance.”  He scored 35 on 27 shots per night, justifying the notion that Kobe cared as much about his shot output as the final score.

So now I get teased by various NBA and Lakers haters about Kobe, and his shooting and rape trial and bloodfest with Shaq, for which he has been inaccurately labeled as the lynchpin for driving Shaq from L.A. (it was actually Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who refused to re-up a fat man for three years at $90 million on top of a similar deal which was already signed.). 

This whole teasing situation came to a head recently, when a kind-of friend (more like a person I know rather than a friend) asked me how I could worship a player who was so arrogant and who had been accused of rape (I tried to emphasize to him the accused part, much to no avail.). And I had a very simple answer for him: I try not to judge people on a personal level when I don’t know them.

I don’t know Kobe. Never met him, never talked to him, and I don’t see that changing in the immediate future. What I do know about him is that he is an amazing basketball player, which is where I try to draw the line when evaluating athletes. And what I love about Kobe is the rare confluence of physical and mental abilities he holds. 

Not only is Kobe one of the most physically-gifted basketball players of all-time, but he possesses the inner focus, hyper-competitiveness, and unbreakable will to win that are usually found in much less-physically talented athletes. It’s only when an athlete can merge his outstanding athleticism and physical skill for a sport with a desire to squeeze every last bit of talent he has that we, as sports fans, are presented with a once-in-a-generation athlete. Jordan had it. Jerry Rice had it. Tiger has it. Kobe has it. 

Rather than focus on all his personality characteristics that many people seem to loathe, instead I look at his love for basketball. Only a player with a true appreciation for the game will do whatever he can to make himself the best possible player. Too often we see athletes — not just in basketball — who never realize their potential due to laziness, indifference, or injury. In Kobe’s case, we have seen how close an athlete can come to mastering his sport by matching his physical talent with an unrelenting work ethic. And for that, I show appreciation to him. The bromance, though, will have to wait. I really like that Brad Pitt guy.

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