Last Wednesday marked the last time one of the greatest athletes ever will lace up his trademark sneakers, don his legendary purple and gold jersey and emerge out of the tunnel of the Staples Center to the roar of thousands of adoring fans.
Last Wednesday marked the last time Kobe Bryant would ever play in a professional basketball game.
Bryant accomplished virtually everything one could dream of during the course of his illustrious 20-year Laker career. The 18-time All-Star won the MVP award in 2008 and the NBA title on five separate occasions, being named Finals MVP twice. He ranks third all-time on both the NBA’s regular season scoring and post-season scoring lists.
While it is impossible to deny Bryant’s place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, most people will admit this reluctantly. If you support one of the 29 teams in the NBA who aren’t the Lakers, you probably detest Kobe and chances are there’s good reason behind your feelings of animosity. He could ruin your entire evening by draining a buzzer-beater after missing his last six shots or make your favorite players look stupid as he effortlessly dropped 45 points. He was a sharp shooter, a stone-cold assassin, the Black Mamba. Kobe Bryant, unapologetic for the havoc he wreaked on the rest of the NBA, was a villain.
Nike was well aware of where their superstar stood in the eyes of opposing players and fans. In the days leading up to his retirement, they released a series of commercials that featured other athletes sharing their opinions on the Lakers legend. “He pissed me off a lot,” Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “He happened to say, ‘You guys can’t even sit at the lunch table with me. I’ve got five championships. What do you have?’” When asked to summarize Bryant in one word, Durant looked straight into the camera and said, “A**hole.”
It wasn’t just the opposition that had difficulty dealing with Bryant; most teammates also found him extremely challenging. The feud between Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal that led to O’Neal’s eventual departure from LA is now part of sports legend. Despite winning three consecutive titles together from 2000-2002, the two personalities were so toxic together that they couldn’t be on the same team. Los Angeles Clippers coach and former NBA player Doc Rivers called the Kobe/Shaq breakup the “biggest travesty in sports.”
At least Shaq had some serious accolades to throw around when arguing with Bryant. Most players weren’t so lucky. Smush Parker, another one of Bryant’s former teammates, tried to speak with Bryant about NFL results on the first day of practice. Bryant responded, “You can’t talk to me. You need more accolades under your belt.”
While he is definitely arrogant and self-absorbed, Kobe did much more to garner hatred. People despised him because he was better than everyone he went up against and he knew it. Everyone knew it. I hardly knew anything about basketball when I found out who Kobe Bryant was. However, I didn’t need an extensive knowledge of the game to recognize that Kobe Bryant wanted to win more than anyone I have ever seen. It was written all over his face every time he stepped back for his signature fade-away jumper. You could feel his intensity in your living room as he stared opponents down. “People just don’t understand how obsessed I am with winning,” he once said. “Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almost.” Kobe Bryant would do anything it took to win. He wasn’t joking either. This is a guy who completely tore his Achilles tendon after being fouled, got up and made both free throws. He simply refused to lose.
Most things people have to say about Kobe Bryant are negative, as well they should be. However, at the end of the day, he has an NBA Championship ring for every finger on that right hand of his that caused so many people so much despair.