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First person fan opinion: Learning to love Kobe Bryant
When Kobe Bryant(notes) won his second championship ring, I was rooting against him, along with all of Philadelphia and all of underdog America. Watching that particular championship series crystallized my resentment towards Bryant - that swagger, that bravado, that sense of privilege.
However, after a few more years of watching Kobe Bryant strut and struggle, my attitude about him has changed. This change in attitude might have something to do with my own change to a west coast zip code, but I'd like to think it has more to do with Kobe Bryant and the changes he's gone through.
Today I would take Lakers season tickets over any other team. Why? Because Bryant is on the team, that's why.
Though I can't exactly come around to call myself a Lakers fan, I am fascinated by the play and the persona that Kobe Bryant brings to the court.
Bryant has gone from being a wonder-kid champion to a villain, to a sulking star and back to a being a champion. It's been a long road for Kobe to get where he is today, and it's been interesting, as a basketball fan, to watch him walk that road.
Coming out of Philly, Kobe sat on the bench for the Lakers for a couple years, then exploded onto the NBA scene. He won the dunk contest, made the All-Star team and took his game to new levels. He started scoring like a mad man. No one could stop him.
Suddenly, Kobe Bryant was a star.
But he was an ambitious one - too ambitious to share the spotlight.
Shaquille O'Neal(notes) was the most dominant player in the NBA when Kobe Bryant began to hit his stride. The "Big Aristotle" cast a big shadow and the new-born star Kobe suffered in that shadow, relegated to the role of wingman when he wanted to be the top gun.
Drama, naturally, ensued.
You probably know the rest. Bryant was sued then acquitted in Colorado. Locker-room bickering took center stage…and the team broke up.
When all this went down I was anti-Kobe like so many others. He seemed to be so unwilling to share the spotlight that he smash it to pieces instead of sharing. Things were ugly in LA. The glamour turned to gall and I was not a fan of all the drama.
And all the drama seemed to be Kobe's.
Best player on the floor
Since then, Kobe Bryant has been the sole leader of the Los Angeles Lakers. He's also been the best player on the floor in nearly every game he has played.
His pre-eminence is enough reason to respect his game and his talent and, in the case of Kobe Bryant, it is also reason for people to despise him.
A question that proves the point: Which team will remember Bryant's 81 point performance longer, the Lakers or the Mavericks?
I watched this game on local Los Angeles cable with the LA announcers doing the broadcast. I'll never forget it. As Kobe kept pouring in the points, it dawned on me and my friends that we were watching history happen, and it was great to hear the amazement shared by the court-side professionals who watch games for a living.
Even they were in awe of Kobe.
At this point in his career, Kobe must be considered in a new conversation. Beyond the discussion of best players in the league today, Kobe Bryant has earned the right to be considered as one of the best players in the history of the league.
Five championships, an MVP trophy, a scoring title, and many All-Star games have positioned Bryant above his peers. The only other players active today that rival Kobe Bryant's accomplishments are Tim Duncan(notes) and Shaquille O'Neal, both of whom are set to enter the discussion for "best ever" for their respective positions. These players are each guaranteed a place in history. Where exactly they will stand is an interesting question.
With years left to play and a strong team around him, Kobe is uniquely poised to pad his resume with more championships and further climb the ladder into rarified heights of NBA history.
While the conversation about where these guys will stand in the annals of history may seem academic, I don't feel that way. Part of being a true fan of any sport is learning to appreciate the moments that will endure and to recognize them as they happen.
Kobe Bryant is one of those "moments" in the NBA. If I were to introduce someone to the NBA today, I would point to Bryant and say, "there is one of the best shooting guards to ever play basketball". The truth of that kind of statement, even if it is (slightly) debatable, is what makes players special and important.
This is why I love to watch Kobe play. I know I am watching the guy who could end up being called "the best shooting guard ever".
The conversation in his own words
Every NBA fan has seen about a thousand interviews with Kobe Bryant. At press conferences, on ESPN, at half-time - we've seen him speak at parade podiums again and again.
On every occasion Kobe Bryant has shown himself to be impressively articulate. Though NBA fans also know that Bryant went straight from high school to the pros, there is no doubt that Kobe Bryant is an intelligent and well-spoken individual. The poise he shows behind a microphone makes him an ideal spokesman for the league.
Both as a fan and as a writer, I appreciate Kobe's verbal acuity. It's hard not to be impressed by a guy like that - in his early thirties, calm under the bright lights, effusive where most people would stumble or clam up.
Gold medal Olympic team
After losing in the Finals to Celtics it would have been easy for Kobe Bryant to bow out of the 2008 summer Olympics.
Instead of fostering his bitterness and saving up his anger for the next championship run, Kobe went to Greece to play alongside LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes) and brought home a gold medal to the United States.
Bryant led by example in the locker room and on the court in a way that directly contrasted to the criticisms of selfishness he has faced over his years as a professional basketball player.
The NBA is not Kobe Bryant's league in the same way that it once was Michael Jordan's. Bryant is less of a darling, more of an enigma. He has been steeped in controversy. He has been both embraced by a public and rejected in ways that Jordan never was.
Ultimately, whether fan or foe, no one can deny the fact that Bryant has given us a good show. The fascinating and extreme ups and downs of Bryant's career are impossible to deny for their entertainment value alone. And when we stop to consider the many achievements that Kobe has managed to notch while embroiled in his own drama, we begin to see that Kobe's story is the NBA story and it has been for a while now.
*Note: This article was written by an Associated Content Contributor. To become a Contributor and start publishing your own sports articles, go to Associated Content.
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