Kobe Bryant: Can the Brother Get Some Love?
We all know the old Indian fable about something becoming the truth by repeated assertion. This phenomenon seems to have manifested itself subtly in the NBA, where regardless of whatever he does, Kobe Bryant remains a grudgingly admired superstar. Someone with skills that even the most elite of players in the league can only envy, and have to acknowledge that they're just a gift that only he has, among his contemporaries at least.
Living in Melbourne and not being hooked up to cable television has meant that I have had only very fleeting glimpses of NBA action this season, but have managed to be somewhat tuned in. And the one thing that has stood out for me is Bryant's performance. To be fair, I wasn't exactly enamoured of Bryant in the whole Shaquille O'Neal-Phil Jackson drama following their humiliation against Detroit in the 2004 final, not to mention the ugly sexual assault scandal. In hindsight, it seems the media and public at large were happy to see their image of Bryant as an arrogant, self-centred brat reinforced and he was swiftly and unfairly judged. In the end, it turned out to be one of those encounters gone wrong, possibly one of many such episodes in contemporary American society. In fact, I was somewhat gleeful at the Lakers' plight last season and rejoiced when Miami clinched that unforgettable game on Christman eve (or was it on Christmas Day?). I knew all along, however, that Bryant was a special player, regardless of whatever he was as a person, which frankly is irrelevant unless it has a direct bearing on the sport or fans.
But just like Shane Warne, his supposed character flaws will possibly haunt him till the very end of his career. Or at least that is how I read it. And then there is this whole idea of being a team man, which is quite often taken to ridiculous extents in American sport. So what better way to nail Bryant than to expose him as a selfish, ball-hungry guard who only cares about his PPG? Never mind that the PPG is a small matter of 35, and that without Bryant, the Lakers would have disappeared without a trace this season. Given the compelling arguments, there is another trick that comes in handy for pundits - prop up someone else, especially if someone as good as Lamar Odom is around, someone who's happy to be the number two and is apparently not obsessed with stardom. Now eulogise his contributions, if only to make a little dent in Bryant's own. Combine all that with a mediocre team record, and Bryant is well and truly out of the MVP race. I have the utmost admiration for Steve Nash and he was well and truly the MVP last season, and definitely a contender this season, but why does Bryant get sidelined so ruthlessly (to be honest, my vote is for Nowitzki)? One just has to read between the lines. It's all one big organised circus, the NBA.