OK, that may be a bit of a stretch, but there is no question Kobe Bryant is the most polarizing figure in the NBA today. Ask 100 people and you will get 10,000 different opinions. (Yes I know the math doesn't make sense.)
Bryant is, without a doubt, one of the top players, if not the top player, in the NBA today. He has a killer instinct that has not been seen since the days of yore, and by yore, I mean MJ.
He has the ability to feel out a game and decide whether or not to be a gunner—yes he does still have that gunner mentality—or to be a facilitator and score when needed. He has matured, and with better teammates, he has learned how to involve them and sometimes trust them.
All of those things being said, he still will never get the love and respect he deserves from his game. Why is that? Why is possibly the best player since MJ has retired, after the Bulls not the Wizards, so reviled and not adorned with the admiration that his game deserves?
Simple. The guy makes it easy to hate him.
Now let me start by saying I do not hate Kobe as a player, but I have many issues with the man. I know, we are supposed to judge a basketball player on his basketball skills, but unfortunately for professional athletes, they are in the spotlight.
Kobe has never come across, at least to this outsider's view, as a personable, commercial, marketable-type guy. He is smarmy, I don't know what that means, and just seems smug and cocky.
Is there anything wrong with that? No, not at all. It is what makes him a world-class athlete. But he was never able to take over the mantle of Michael and the movies, commercials, and publicity because of his lack of ability to be open and personable.
All of that being said, Kobe should not have to be Michael, but his game unfortunately took him to that place.
So why is he hated by so many and loved by the rest?
Here is what I see as the most common themes amongst Kobe hate and the response by the Kobe lovers (not meant in a derogatory way, OK a little bit):
Kobe Haters: He is a rapist.
Kobe Lovers: Charges were dropped.
Reality: Kobe was charged with rape and possibly did force sexual acts on a woman. Did he rape her? Doubtful, but for either party (lovers or haters) to say that they know for sure is wrong.
My thoughts are he had her up to the room, and things were probably going along fine, and he asked for something she was either uncomfortable doing, or did something she wasn't expecting. This led to things getting weird and perhaps the rape accusations.
Rape charges are a tough situation, because for a supposed victim to face her alleged attacker is a very trying and difficult thing to do. Also, the paying off thing makes him look guilty of just trying to pay her off to get rid of the situation.
Kobe Haters: He has thrown everyone—teammates, coaches, and ex-teammates—under the bus.
Kobe Lovers: All he cares about is winning, and he doesn't care who gets in his way.
Reality: This one is a little tricky, because I have been critical of Kobe's behavior with teammates in the past. He has only become a good leader recently when he has been surrounded by good teammates. Is this his fault? Partly, as one of the greatest ever, he should raise up even when the worst of players are put around him.
In reality, he did lead those teams to the playoffs, and they probably were not even that good, but once he got them there, they were unable to do anything.
Kobe Haters: He quit on his team, in Game 7 of the playoffs against the Phoenix Suns.
Kobe Lovers: This was the only way for him to wake up management and get the help he needed.
Reality: Sorry Kobe lovers, but I cannot ever give this one up. I actually never had a huge problem with Kobe until this series and the summer that followed. He was at this time, without a doubt the best player in the world. He had a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series against an undermanned Suns team with a close-out game at home. He blew it, he knew it, and he quit on his team the following game for reasons no one will ever really know.
The Game 6 loss, again from an outsider's view, had to be the most crushing loss of his career, and it became evident that he needed more help to get back to the top. He got there last year, and was again unable to seal the deal.
He has not always been the consummate professional on the court. (I had nothing to with this video so anyone offended by the title/song I apologize.)
Will he finally break through as the man on a team? Will he finally put himself into the pantheon of greatness to everyone?
I don't know what it will take for him to get there in other people's eyes, but in my eyes he is without a doubt a top 15 player of all time, right now. He is on the cusp of top 10, and with a few more years and a few more rings, he could get into the pentagon of greatness, which is the top five.
He has been childish, immature and an outright jerk sometimes on and off the court. But as a player on the court, he is special, and from this observer's point of view, a generation-defining superstar.
He has created a following of kids, teens, and adults alike who feel entitlement, a right to be great and the need not to open up to others. He has also shown these people what it looks like to work at your craft, with tireless dedication and an unending will to be the best.
Kobe Bryant is loved by many, hated by more, but the man must be respected and his game must be remembered.
God I need to take a shower now after writing this. I think I might throw up.