Jason Whitlock, a Fox Sports personality, appeared on The Herd recently, and he made some unflattering comments regarding Kobe Bryant. Whitlock claimed that Kobe’s “narcissism and selfishness destroyed a franchise,” a comment that isn’t really all that easy to understand. It’s not that Kobe shouldn’t be called narcissistic or selfish, but rather it’s hard to understand how someone would think that he destroyed the Lakers.
After all, Kobe was an integral part of five* NBA championships – all with the Lakers – and he proved himself to be a tremendous competitor over the course of his career. Even if the Lakers were on hard times in 2016, perhaps partly due to Kobe’s hefty salary, five* championships over 20 years certainly pays for some bad years at career’s end.
If you’re going to sound off about Kobe Bryant and remain credible, then it probably shouldn’t be with ridiculous claims that he “destroyed” the franchise that he helped bring five NBA titles to. Bryant put butts in the seats in the Staples Center, and the Lakers’ management knew it.
You could, if you wanted to, point out that he wasn’t the best player in the league with reference to Michael Jordan in the early years and Lebron James in the latter years. To a degree, Whitlock does this as he referenced a Deadspin stat that supposedly illustrated that Kobe might have been over-rated in the association. In my opinion, you might even be able to argue that Bryant wasn’t even the best player on his team sometimes as Shaquille O’Neal is more of a standout center than Kobe ever was as a guard.
However, if we’re going to remind people about the down-side of Bryant, there are two major lowlights in his career, both of which seem to be shoved down the Orwellian memory hole right now as everyone gets warm and fuzzy as Bryant retires.
The lesser point of the two is that Bryant probably only deserves four of the five NBA championship rings he has. The 2002 Western Conference Finals have been alleged to have been fixed, with Kobe’s Lakers the beneficiaries.
If you don’t know about the series in question, then I’ll sum it up quickly. Sacramento lead the series 3-2, and they had a good chance to close Los Angeles out in game six. But a series of questionable calls went Los Angeles’ way en route to a Laker win. Years later a disgraced NBA referee named Tim Donaghy claimed that game six was the target of crooked officiating.
One grotesque foul in the game involved Mr. Bryant himself. He basically “ran over Mike Bibby,” according to the Bill Walton commentary, with a little more than ten seconds to play and Los Angeles up by one. No foul was called against Bryant. Instead he was fouled on the play by another player, and criticisms of the game started pouring in.
If you are really attuned to sports fans in North America, then you know that the NBA’s credibility has yet to recover. There are a lot of pundits out there that are basically agnostic about this series. But Ralph Nader, a prominent consumer advocate that ran for president in 2000, claimed that it was “the worst officiating in the NBA that anyone can remember.”
In regard to Bryant, he was central to the most egregious call. Los Angeles won game six; LA won game seven, and LA won the NBA Finals. Sacramento has pretty much sucked ever since and why shouldn’t they? It didn’t pay for them to put an elite team on the court, because small-city Sacramento couldn’t deliver the TV ratings that the NBA wanted anyways, arguably the central reason why the Kings were victims of the biased officiating. Small wonder the Kings made an effort to relocate to Los Angeles a while after this series.
At about the same time in his life, Bryant was involved in a very long-lasting sexual-assault case and not as the accuser. It’s a sad commentary that we’re now used to celebs being accused of sexual misconduct, and Bryant had his own drama with a “young woman” in 2003. However, a lot of the time when it comes to such accusations there is often a lacking of substantial evidence against the accused. In my view, the Patrick Kane case from 2015 was like that as there just wasn’t anything convincing ever presented against Kane.
But secondly, when it comes to accusations there’s often a questioning of the accuser’s motives when a finger gets pointed at a millionaire. Something like that has gone on in regard to the Bill Cosby fiasco.
Bryant’s case, at the end of it, was much different by his own writing:
“I…want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman,” the one who accused him. “No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
Whitlock talks about Kobe’s “narcissism” destroying a franchise? How about being so narcissistic that you perceive consent from a woman who, apparently in her own mind, thinks she is being sexually assaulted.
There may even be a relationship between the 2002 playoffs and the 2003 sexual-assault case. Think about it: when someone is never held accountable for his actions, he starts to think he can do whatever he wants. Kobe, in his youth, was the poster-boy of the male athlete that we all know from high school: the guy that needs some whistles blown both literally in sports and metaphorically in life to correct both his on-court behavior and off-court character. For whatever he matured into, at his worst Bryant was this type of guy.
Sticking with a career review of his achievements, Kobe’s big-picture NBA performance was nowhere near as great as Michael Jordan’s. People that think that it was are guilty of a common type of sports fallacy: whoever is more contemporary of current great players tends to be considered greater than those in the past. In fact, I think something like that is going on with Steph Curry right now in regard to Jordan comparisons. The next guy that inevitably comes along will be considered the greatest of all-time as well. It’s just how it works.
Bryant’s career should be considered far more polarizing than it actually is. As a figure in the best-ever debate, I think that those that mention his name only discredit themselves. As an NBA champion, there’s at least one asterisk to put up. As a citizen or role model, he certainly wasn’t someone that we want the next generation to emulate.