Are you feeling Kobe Bryant? Are you happy for him? When I saw Bryant pumping his first and scissor-kicking after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship on Sunday, I wondered if non-Laker fans/non-devoted Kobe lovers shared in his joy.
Were you smiling with him?
Remember Kevin Garnett's "Anything is possibaaaaallll!!!!!!" moment last season? How he kissed the court and cried after leading the Boston Celtics to the title? You couldn't help but somewhat relate to the raw emotions emitted from the guy, given the misery and mediocrity he endured in Minnesota.
But what was the reaction to Bryant's giddy, unbridled emotion after he finally became the singular leader of a championship team? Were most people really hoping that Bryant would a win a title without Shaquille O'Neal? Didn't he kind of come out on the wrong end of that whole O'Neal-Bryant divorce?
Throughout his career in the NBA, Bryant has rarely, if ever, been viewed as a sympathetic figure. He has never exposed his vulnerabilities, never opened up much about his shortcomings, and often came off as aloof and arrogant to most outsiders. It's silly to ask now, but has he ever really backed off his trade demand from two years ago?
Most recognized Bryant as a great basketball player, arguably the best in the game. He's had a singular focus to be the best in the game, not just now, but all-time. Great players never get caught up in what others think. That has rubbed some wrong, especially because he but he never seemed eager to make people like him, possibly because he realized that he was always going to be a polarizing figure (especially after that sexual assault case in Colorado).
Over time he has embraced this sinister, Black Mamba persona. He was the guy who heard boos and spent the entire game wanting to turn them into cheers by the end of the night. The act never came off as genuine -- the nice kid who grew up in Italy and attended Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia is suddenly a ruthless, elbow-throwing villain?
You cannot deny that Bryant was sincerely happy to win his fourth championship. The scene of him nervously chewing his nails and waiting for the game to finally end was probably one of the most authentic Kobe moments that I can recall since he was that kid with the Afro wearing the No. 8. Then, seeing him share in that moment with his two young daughters truly brought out a real, pure side that Bryant has often been unwilling to disclose.
Maybe we've expected more of Bryant because his game his so dynamic. That horribly boring Spike Lee movie, "Kobe Doing Work," may have revealed that there isn't much more there than an incredibly focused, obsessed and driven basketball junkie.
In recent years, this season especially, I've often felt that Bryant has never had the opportunity to truly be appreciated for his basketball gifts. Bryant has never had his own spotlight.
When he entered the league, Bryant patterned his game around Michael Jordan and was thrown into that group of Next MJs with Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse and several others that I can't think of right now. Every time Bryant accomplished something, the next sentence was always, "But Michael Jordan would've done blah, blah." Bryant could never shake free of Jordan's shadow. Probably never will fully.
Then, Bryant had to deal with being under O'Neal's shadow after O'Neal was traded to Los Angeles. He had to repeatedly hear about how he couldn't win without his former teammate; that his success in winning three championships was diminished because he wasn't the focal point of a title team. Never mind that Bryant often bailed out O'Neal in playoff series and then got out of the way during the NBA Finals, letting O'Neal obliterate everything in his path to get a ring.
And, after Byant had his historic 81-point game to establish his own identity outside of Jordan and later matched O'Neal in league MVP trophies, he had to deal with debates over who is the league's best player with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Now, Bryant has never had a peer in his age group, and James and Wade haven't combined to win half as many NBA championships as Bryant. So how is that fair?
What I'm trying to say is that Bryant has never had his moment to be appreciated for who is. He got it last night. The NBA Finals were all about Bryant and he delivered, taking the Lakers to a 15th championship. He stood alone. Away from Jordan, O'Neal, LeBron, etc. Kobe's moment.
But are you really feeling him? And does it even matter?
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