If you walk around a random three-block area of the greater Los Angeles area, you are likely to see at least one Kobe Bryant(notes) jersey. He is the current icon of the city's sporting scene, a figure who will go down as at least as important in LA sports history as Magic Johnson, Tommy Lasorda, and Luc Robitaille. The man owns the town and can do no wrong.
Still, Kobe's King of LA designation was earned, not a birthright. His only tie to the city is the Lakers, not the deeper basketball subculture at summer pro-am competitions like the Drew League.
Like many NBA players, Kobe has taken advantage of the lockout to play in the Drew League -- he even hit a notable game-winner over James Harden two weeks ago. Still, not every LA basketball personality has welcomed Kobe to the league with open arms. Brandon Jennings(notes), a Compton native and current Milwaukee Bucks point guard, says Kobe shouldn't appear at Drew League events. From Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Times:
If Kobe Bryant agrees to play in a proposed Drew League-Goodman League rematch, thousands of L.A. fans would flock to wherever the game takes place. And if he does, it appears Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings would go on his own "birther" campaign, like Donald Trump did with President Barack Obama.
"He wasn't born and raised in L.A," Jennings told ESPN the Magazine's Chris Palmer regarding Bryant, who attended Lower Merion near Philadelphia. "You gotta be from L.A. for Drew. Show me a birth certificate." [...]
Don't mistake Brandon's gripes about Bryant as a personal attack, though. Even though the Compton native would benefit from playing alongside Bryant, his gripes point more to his belief that the Drew League is compromising its roots in representing L.A. players. Jennings, after all, reiterated to Palmer the same thing he told me at the 2010 ESPY awards.
These comments from Jennings are both understandable and a little silly. On one hand, he grew up in the Drew League culture and knows that it represents the LA basketball scene in its purest form. However, appearances by Kobe and other stars help increase its profile, thereby boosting its popular and bringing some attention to the local, non-NBA legends who participate.
Purity tests are usually bad news for organizations, whether they're political parties or sports leagues. Openness and acceptance tend to be virtues. But in the case of the Drew League, the NBA's lost summer could in fact lead to some unintended negative consequences. It's a league that exists to boost basketball in Los Angeles. What's it like when new players come in and treat it as a side-project instead of an organization with a legitimate goal?
If Bryant doesn't understand the goals of the Drew League, then it might make sense for him not to play. But if he wants to, it's on local stars like Jennings to teach him about it, not to say he's not allowed. There's room for everyone here, but the success of such a partnership depends on all parties respecting the needs of each other. Deciding who's invited and barred isn't going to help anyone.
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