Mar 9, 2008

Why are there so many Kobe haters?

I went to college for four years in L.A., and two of those years followed the Kobe-Shaq divorce. If you recall, that monumental melee made more headlines than Nick & Jessica's breakup (if you can believe that). Outside of L.A., the coverage was excessive. Prime example: there is an actual topic on Wikpedia.com titled "Shaq-Kobe Feud" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaq-Kobe_feud). Living in L.A., the coverage was way beyond over-the-top.

As big as Kobe Bryant had become, Shaq was the NBA's unofficial spokesman of sorts. He embraced this role wholeheartedly, and numerous up-and-coming stars went to Shaq for advice. His endearing personality had won over millions of fans and made him the media's sweetheart. Meanwhile, Kobe remained in the shadows as much as possible given his blossoming stardom. Kobe was and is much more of a private figure, not unlike MJ.

Before long, whispers of "Kobe's selfish" turned into newspaper headlines. It made a lot of sense: Kobe played the shooting guard position, fired up close to 30 shots per game, and had that swagger only before seen by MJ. What was often forgotten during all the drama was that it was Shaq who asked for a trade when Phil's contract was not renewed. Kobe met with the Clippers, but he re-signed with the Lakers before the feud was resolved. The fact of the matter remains: these were two young stars, playing different positions on the same court. They were both arguably the best in the league at their respective positions, and there weren't enough shots to go around. It had all the makings of an envy-fueled feud from the get-go.

I'll be the first to admit Kobe has alienated himself from many fans and parts of the media through his numerous public criticisms of teammates and management. At times, his public statements have been downright immature. However, he was not the only one to blame for the nasty breakup. I don't think it's coincidence that Shaq also feuded with another young star guard when he was in Orlando. Granted, Penny disappeared from the spotlight faster than Shawn Kemp at a child support hearing, but the parallel can still be made. Shaq has never been able to share the spotlight, and probably would have had beef with Dwyane Wade if they didn't play together during the twilight years of Shaq's career.

I still believe Kobe has been the target of unwarranted criticism throughout his career. He is greeted by more "boos" in opposing arenas than anyone else in the league. Why is this? What inspires fans to boo Kobe in, say, Atlanta? He's never faced them in the playoffs, has never shunned the franchise during trade talks, or made negative comments about the city -- all typical reasons for the "boo birds" to come out. It's not even an arguable point -- Kobe is clearly the most hated player in the NBA.

Here's my take on why so many fans hate Kobe Bryant: he reminds people too much of Michael Jordan. The jump shot, the acrobatic dunks, the size (both 6'6"), the knack for making impossible shots in the clutch, and even the way he speaks in interviews. Phil Jackson coached both of these players, and he has said that Kobe is even more competitive than Jordan (if that's possible) and that both players were always the first and last at the gym. Kobe's game and personality are eerily reminiscent of Jordan, and no Jordan fan wants to accept it.

Let's be honest, Jordan did all of this first. Every other superstar has made his own niche, been the first to play the way he plays. Shaq-Wilt and Lebron-Elgin are the only other comparisons that even come close, but those duos played eras apart, so most fans (myself included) weren't really around to recognize the similarities. Jordan was making a comeback with the Wizards when Kobe hit center stage, so it was nearly impossible to avoid the comparison.

In the mid-nineties, Jordan was almost universally recognized as the greatest player ever. He won six championships, all those scoring titles, and revolutionized the game while doing it. He was the first athlete to take endorsements to another level (see Wheaties, Hanes, Gatorade, and his own personal branch of Nike). Ask anyone between the ages of 20 and 40 who their favorite all-time player is, and there is a 50/50 chance they will say His Airness.

Watch Kobe talk, run, jump, shoot, and dunk, and you get the feeling he modeled his entire game after Jordan. It's actually incredibly annoying. Why couldn't he just do his own thing, take all of that God-given ability and channel it into something we have never seen on the basketball court? The answer: if he had, he wouldn't be so successful. Most shooting guards in the league grew up with coaches teaching them to shoot "like Mike," to play defense "like Mike," to chew gum "like Mike." The only difference is that Kobe was the only one who could actually pull it off. I don't blame him one bit -- if you are going to model your game after another player (everyone does), why not model it after the best who ever played?

Recently, I've been starting to see fans' opinions change. A few nights ago, playing AT hated rival Sacramento, chants of "MVP! MVP!" echoed from the rafters as Kobe stepped up to the foul line. Even last year, this would have been unthinkable. As time passes, people are growing to love him. While he is still the most hated player, he is also the most loved player in the league today. Now that he has a formidable supporting cast, his star is shining brighter than ever. Generation Y is replacing "MJ" with "Kobe" as its favorite all-time player, much to the dismay of the Baby Boomers and Generation X.

So how will Kobe be remembered in 20 years, long retired, two or three rings richer (three would be most fitting)? I think there's a very good chance he is mentioned in the same breath as Russell, Bird, Magic, and Jordan. Am I way off-base? What are your thoughts?



Some great Kobe links to read up on:

Remembering the 81-point night -- http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/dailydime?page=dailydime-060123

Why Kobe is the best (and worst) ever -- http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/59791/why_kobe_bryant_is_the_best_and_worst.html

"Kobe Bryant blog day" -- http://hardwoodparoxysm.blogspot.com/2008/02/special-announcement-march-11th-kobe.html

Rewind: why Kobe was more wrong than Shaq -- http://archive.salon.com/news/sports/col//barra/2001/01/31/lakers/?sid=1009362

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no denying that Kobe is a fantastic talent. He plays at a level in which it's safe to say that "the only player in The League who can stop Bryant is Bryant!" Just as with any great scorer throughout the history of the game, there are going to be nights when everything that he shoots seems to go in - regardless of the degree of difficulty or unlikelihood of the shot having a prayer.

On the "off" nights, scorers can appear to be selfish, and Kobe is no exception. However, I felt that he was more apt to keep hoisting shots in the past than he is today. He seems to play within the flow of the game much better than he used to, meaning that he could torch someone for 60 one night if his team needed it, and fill the box score with a triple-double type performance and maybe 15-20 the next night if that was called for.

My personal beef with Kobe has been a perception of arrogance as well as special rules surrounding him on the part of officials. I had the same problem with MJ when he played. Anyone who is a student of the game at all will tell you that the "stars" in any sport are given the extra benefit - meaning that 99% of the time, if there's a situation that is almost too close to call, the whistle seems to be in favor of the marquee player.

I'm not a Kobe fan, and wasn't a fan of Michael Jordan (a fact that you may remember well from growing up!) However, I "get it" when it comes to what is perceived as preferential treatment by officials of these guys. They are capable of so much more that it truly is almost hard to fathom that an opponent can get the best of them. Being an Oregonian and following the Blazers over the years (though not always much of a fan of their's), I can attest to the perception here that Kobe "gets away with too much"!

The other thing about Kobe (and Jordan) is that competitive burn that they both possess(ed). They will NEVER back down from ANYONE. That quality is an important part of what makes most great players as good as they are. They'll get into any opponent's face at anytime if they don't like something that they did. Due to the fact that they are being watched more closely than anyone in the arena, every time that they get into it with a player of the home team, it's viewed as much more of an offense to the home crowd than most other guys. A chorus of boos is bound to follow! The same response can be expected when they complain about a call or interact in any way with the officials.

I won't deny that I preferred Kareem, Oscar and Magic to either of these guys, but it's not because I don't feel that Bryant and Jordan don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. It's just my preference.

Since the great Lakers' Showtime teams of the 80's lost Magic and Kareem and Worthy and Co, I have become a fan who tends to be much more a follower of certain individual players than of specific teams. Since Kobe isn't one of my favorite guys, I just don't get as excited about the player that he is. Sometimes I bother myself with those tendencies because I feel that in the longrun I'm kind of cheating myself by failing to appreciate him (or MJ) as much as I should.

Every person has their own reasons for liking or disliking a particular player - from the college that he went to, to the team he currently plays for, to personal judgements about their off-the-court behavior.

When you are as big as Bryant is, and you play in the glitziest market in the NBA, you are going to have a huge bullseye on your forehead. If a player of such stature has a pulse at all, there is going to be much less room for a "middle ground" position on the part of fans toward him. Generally, if he plays for your team, you love him, if he plays for a major rival, you hate him. In addition, the rest of the fans around the league either admire him or have little use for him. It's tough to be on the fence with players like that!

C Nelly

robd said...

"Here's my take on why so many fans hate Kobe Bryant: he reminds people too much of Michael Jordan."

Dude that might be the most truthful thing I've ever read about the Kobe/MJ debate. You hit the nail on the head. Not only do people hate him because he reminds them of Mike, but the last few years he's been doing things on the court that Mike never did. When MJ fans and anti-Kobe people see Kobe do these ridiculous things (i.e. the 81, the four-straight 50s) they are confronted with something they will just not accept. So they deal with it by pouring on more hate. It's a shame.

Anonymous said...

While I have always agreed with on the Kobe subject, I can see how Kobe brings it on himself. Check out his quote, then check out the stat reference that backs (or, doesn't) it up. It is interesting:

http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-31-48/Imagine-Kobe-Bryant-vs--the-Eastern-Conference--Or-Look-it-Up-.html

-GB

Walton's Wisdom said...

GB: while those stats seem to slightly contradict what he is saying, I don't think it is much of a sample to go off of. 28 games don't mean much. Here's why:

I don't have the stats, but given how miserable the East was this season, the probability of games being close & requiring Kobe to take over, err, get more aggressive is less likely. If you look at the fact his shooting percentage is slightly higher against the East, it's fair to assume that he would be scoring more points if taking an equal number of shot attempts against each conference. Also, you have to figure in the fact that half of those games are on the road, usually at least 3,000 miles from LA. If he were playing in the East, he would be making shorter road trips to play the same opponents, his routine would be more normal, he would be better rested, and ultimately the in-conference games would matter more.

Don't get me wrong, Lebron is an exceptional player who would be getting gaudy numbers for any team in any conference. However, when you play on a team with no other viable offensive weapons, your stats are going to be better. Before Kobe could trust his teammates (or before he chose to trust his teammates), he was scoring in Lebron's range in a much tougher Western Conference.