All you really need to know about the kind of guy, the kind of teammate, the kind of employee Kobe Bryant is could be found in the look of mourning and terror painted across Mitch Kupchak's face this week.
The Los Angeles Lakers general manager recently had watched his team implode in the NBA finals, had his legendary coach retire under duress and then was forced to trade away Shaquille O'Neal, the game's most dominant player.
Each was, at least in part, a result of either Bryant's actions or wishes.
"A disappointing day in a lot of ways," Kupchak said Wednesday when he announced the O'Neal trade to Miami.
Yet despite all of this, on Wednesday Kupchak still had no idea what Bryant, the free agent, was going to do. The Lakers had dismantled a dynasty and restructured the entire franchise, and in return Bryant told them, "Let me get back to you."
Then he made the entire Laker Nation, that so desperately wants to trust him, fret while he strongly considered signing with the Clippers.
Yes, the freakin' Clippers.
Thursday Bryant wound up re-signing with the Lakers for seven years at $136 million, but not until he made them grovel, sweat and humiliate themselves in the process.
What a guy.
If Lakers owner Jerry Buss still had a modicum of self-respect he would have gotten sick over this soap opera and – when Bryant still hadn't assured him he was going to re-sign – pulled the plug on the Shaq deal.
He should have asked Shaq for forgiveness, rescinded his offer to Bryant and moved on with personnel that understand what being a Laker really means.
Instead he sold his soul and mortgaged the franchise on a me-first, team-third guy. A guy who displayed not a thought about what this pathetic cry for attention was doing to the people and fans who always have backed him up.
Did we mention that Bryant is scheduled to stand trial for felony sexual assault in Colorado beginning August 27, and a guilty verdict could end his playing career?
The Lakers have been one of the proudest and most storied franchises in sports. And Bryant used them like a desperate girlfriend.
The Lakers are better than this.
The thing with Bryant is that it's always about him. There is plenty to like about the guy, from the high-flying game to the high-wattage smile. There is little question he is among the game's five best individual talents, has a knack for crunch-time performances and at 25 still has plenty of peak years ahead of him.
But when it comes to playing nice with others, there is no similar track record of success.
He has been estranged from his parents. He's feuded with teammates and coaches. His first shoe company, adidas, was so fed up with him they dropped him as a spokesperson and let him go unimpeded to rival Nike.
Who knows where things stand with his wife right now?
And this is who the mighty Lakers rolled over for?
They should have been more careful about whom they wished for.
This is the same guy who never could understand that part of his brilliance was a result of playing with Shaq. Who doesn't care enough about winning to figure out a way to coexist with O'Neal and try for a couple more titles. Who never had a problem throwing a game offensively (even in the finals) if it meant proving a point to Phil Jackson.
Despite all of this, the Lakers had done everything they could by Wednesday to keep Bryant – offering max money, changing coaches, dumping O'Neal, pleading and begging.
And in return, Bryant hung them out to dry for another sleepless, gut-wrenching night before grudgingly deciding to stay.
Heck of a guy.
- Mitch Kupchak
- The Lakers