Kobe Bryant walked away from the NBA with an “epic” 60 point game on Wednesday. And while most felt the need to comment on what an amazing farewell it was, I choose to see it as the perfect embodiment of Kobe’s me-first attitude.
And because I’m nothing if not timely – something that on this rare occasion benefited from my laziness – I’m taking this opportunity to spell out exactly why I hate Kobe so.
1996 NBA Draft
In 1995 Kevin Garnett became the first high schooler in over 2 decades to jump from high school directly to the NBA (primarily because he was too stupid to get into any of the dozens of colleges that were recruiting him). Kobe Bryant followed suit in 1996, although admittedly he wasn’t as dumb as Garnett. He did so with all of the class that would follow him for his entire career.
In 2010, LeBron James held a truly tasteless press conference at a Boys & Girls Club in Connecticut to announce where he’d go in free agency (although gladly we can blame this particular farce on Jim Gray). One of the most hated aspects of his press conference was the fact that LeBron announced his choice by tone-deafly saying, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
So why are we talking about LeBron in a post about Kobe? Because what people seem to forget was that 14 years earlier Kobe had used the exact same phrase when announcing he was skipping college, stating, “I’m going to take my talents to the NBA.” Why we hated on LeBron for using the same line Kobe had years earlier I’ll never know, although it’s fair to say that by 2010 everybody hated Kobe, so perhaps this would’ve just been piling on.
If this was his greatest flaw relating to the draft, he could be forgiven. It wasn’t. Many people remember that Kobe was traded by the Hornets to the Lakers immediately following the draft. What they – and Kobe himself, apparently – seem to forget is that Kobe pulled a John Elway and told pretty much the entire NBA that he wanted to play for the Lakers. His agent wouldn’t allow teams to work him out (including the Hornets) and they got him to last until the 13th pick, which allowed them to pull off the trade that sent Vlade Divac to Charlotte. Years later, Kobe maintained that Dave Cowens didn’t want him and worked the trade to the Hornets. I believe that like I believe the girl in Colorado consented (we’ll get to that later).
2004 NBA Finals
I’m going to be very unpopular in Detroit – and by that I mean the 4 people I know who read this will be irritated and may even comment as such – for saying this, but it’s highly likely that Kobe cost the Lakers the 2004 title.
Here’s the thing: the Pistons pulled off an impressive 5-game “sweep” of the Lakers in ’04, with Kobe hitting a buzzer beater in Game 2 to send the game to overtime, ultimately leading the Lakers to win their only game. No Kobe shot, no buzzer beater, Pistons going home with a 2-0 lead and the Lakers are done, so Kobe kept them in the series, right? Not so. What people forget is that the Pistons took a 6-point lead with 47 seconds left. Then Shaquille O’Neal took over. He dropped a layup with 35 seconds left, got fouled, hit the free throw (never a given considering Shaq’s free throw woes), then pulled down the defensive rebound that ultimately allowed Kobe to tie the game. Shaq then scored 6 of the Lakers’ 10 points in overtime (although to be fair Kobe scored the other 4 and the Pistons only scored 2) and the Lakers went back to Detroit tied.
Shaq was a beast in that series. He scored 26.6 points per game and shot 63.1% from the field. And he should’ve scored a ton more. Kobe took 113 shots in the series to Shaq’s 84, almost 6 shots more per game. This might have made sense if Kobe hadn’t shot at a 38.1% clip. In game 1, Shaq was 13-16 with 34 points. For every shot he took, he scored 2.13 points. Kobe was 10-27, scoring less than a point per attempt. So why the hell did Kobe take 11 more shots than Shaq did when the Pistons couldn’t stop him inside? As Shaq said at the time, “Beats the hell out of me.”
Kobe and Shaq were engaged in a heated battle of “Who’s Team Is It” in 2004, ultimately leading to Shaq’s trade after the 2004 season. Kobe was fine with the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-02 (and Shaq’s 3 Finals MVP awards), but by ’04 he wanted the Lakers to be “his” team. Did he want it enough to effectively sabotage his team by taking the ball out of Shaq’s hands and trying to play the hero? Knowing Kobe’s personality like we do, I say hell yes, especially since he already had 3 rings.
Let’s do a simple breakdown (and yes, this is VERY simple). If Shaq takes 10 more shots per game in that series and Kobe takes 10 fewer, several of the games probably turn out very differently. Take Game 1. Ten more shots for Shaq at the previously mentioned 2.13 points per attempt comes out to 21 more points, while Kobe’s 10 fewer points costs the Lakers only 9 points. The Lakers net an extra 12 points in a game they lose by 12. Do the Lakers win the game in that circumstance? Possibly/probably. Let’s give it to the Pistons just for argument’s sake, so with the Lakers’ OT win in Game 2 it’s 1-1 going back to Detroit. Game 3 was a 20 point win for Detroit and any change in play probably doesn’t make a difference. But make the same change in Game 4 and the Lakers net 9 extra points in a game they lost by 8. It’s a 2-2 series and the Lakers are guaranteed to take the series back to L.A. Game 5 went to the Pistons and, as with Game 3, any change in shot selection by the 2 superstars probably doesn’t change the outcome. But with the Lakers holding home court in Games 6 and 7, and winning 2 of the 3 hypothetically close games, it’s not unreasonable to think the Lakers take the series if the ball’s going to Shaq more thank Kobe.
The ’04 series is looked at as one of the biggest upsets and most unlikely titles in NBA history, although that was somewhat tempered when the Pistons took the Spurs to Game 7 in the ’05 Finals; had the best record in the league in 2006 (where they lost to Shaq’s Heat in the conference finals); and were taken down by LeBron’s coming out party in 2007. But I have to think that if it wasn’t for Kobe’s selfishness, we may well have had a different champion that year and the Pistons would’ve joined the Buffalo Bills in terms of missed opportunities.
2006 Suns Series Game 7
By 2006 the Lakers were a shell of themselves, making the playoffs as the Western Conference’s 7-seed, facing off against the highly-favored Phoenix Suns. They held a 3-1 series lead before the Suns won the next 2 to force Game 7 in Phoenix. Kobe was 8-13 in the first half, scoring 23 points, but quit in the second half, taking 3 shots and scoring 1 point as the Suns blew the Lakers out of the arena.
Kobe said after the game that in order to get back in the game they needed to have everyone contributing. That’s bullshit. Despite the fact that he willed his team to Game 7 (and almost pulled off the upset in Game 6 before losing in OT), Kobe knew his team was crap and decided to prove it by taking the second half of Game 7 off. You can find columns by Lakers fans that will tell you that Kobe found guys with open looks, but Kobe’s not an assist man. Kobe quit.
On the plus side – for Kobe anyway – he was able to prove that his team was crap, which allowed the Lakers to swindle the Grizzlies (run by Lakers’ legend Jerry West) for Pau Gasol, leading the Lakers to titles in 2009 and 2010.
But still…can you picture Michael Jordan taking a quarter off to prove a point? Or is it more realistic that he’d try to throw the team on his back and try to pull the win?
Black Mamba Nickname
Look, this is a short one. Kobe gave himself a nickname. It’s a decent nickname, one that fits his personality, but the fact remains he gave himself a nickname. He didn’t have enough friends – or the respect of his teammates or the media – who would give him a nickname, so he came up with one himself.
Only sociopaths give themselves nicknames. I’m pretty sure the Zodiac Killer gave himself that nickname.
The Rape Charges
Kobe’s a rapist. It’s not really open to interpretation. Hell, he admitted it when the case was settled, saying that the girl didn’t view it as consensual (here’s a hint Kobe: if you have sex with someone who doesn’t view it as consensual, that’s rape). Lakers fans will tell you she was a whore, that she had the DNA of 3 different guys in her underwear. That may be true, but it also doesn’t mean that she wanted to fuck Kobe.
Of course, because the defense – and Lakers fans – attacked the girl’s character (which, to be fair, is part of their job), the victim decided to take a settlement from Kobe to avoid having to take the stand. Now, I don’t know what the settlement amount was, but it took a $4 million ring to keep his wife from divorcing him after the ordeal. I’m guessing it took a helluva lot more to keep him out of prison.
(Also, Kobe married a whore. If you take a $4 million ring in exchange for staying with a guy, you’re a whore. But hey, to each their own.)
And let’s not forget he threw his teammates under the bus when he was charged. No one pretends professional athletes are saints – Magic Johnson didn’t get HIV sitting in his hotel room reading the Bible (just ask A.C. Green). Plenty have cheated. In fact, Kobe’s own team had an internal crisis when DeAngelo Russell secretly videotaped Nick Young admitting he had cheated on his fiance and the video went public. The problem was never that Young had cheated, but that Russell had violated his teammates’ trust by secretly videotaping the discussion. But when the rape charges came out, Kobe was quoted as saying, “I should’ve just paid her, that’s what Shaq does.” In other words, Kobe’s a snitch. Ask Carmelo what happens to snitches.
Barry Bonds is a pariah. So are Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro. None of them raped anyone. None of them had so much as a misdemeanor on their record, as far as anyone knows. They retired – or in Bonds’s case was blacklisted into retirement – and baseball immediately pissed on their proverbial coffins because of their links to baseball’s steroid scandal. Kobe Bryant gets a farewell tour. Fuck the NBA.
As I said before, Kobe’s farewell game was the perfect ending to his me-first career. It was obvious his teammates were told to feed Kobe the ball as much as possible, which is fine, but it allowed a rapist to walk off a hero (and overshadowed the Warriors setting the all-time record for wins in a season).
The problem with Kobe’s farewell was not just that it lasted the entire year, but that the Lakers admitted they had sacrificed the season in deference to celebrating Kobe. Thing is, they gave Kobe a 2-year, $48 million extension for his last 2 seasons, when he was clearly on the downside of his career. Hell, they signed him to the extension when he was recovering from a torn Achilles, so there was no guarantee he’d provide any kind of meaningful play. A farewell tour is nice, $24 million a year when you’re a crap player – which Kobe was – is nicer. And allowing your team to sacrifice the development of their younger players and killing the team’s salary cap so you could get a proper send off is horse shit.
And so very Kobe.
Back to that farewell game. Kobe scored 60 points. Amazing, right? I mean, even I shouldn’t crap on that. Except I can. Kobe took 50 shots. You give any NBA player 50 shots and they’re going to put up points. Kobe was 22-50, or 44%, from the field. The league-wide average was 45.2%. The NBA average came out to 1.21 points per attempt; Kobe was at 1.20. In other words, for a guy who put up 50 shots, Kobe was below average. For comparison, in his 81-point game in 2006 – truly an epic performance – Kobe put up 46 shots.
But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. It’s not so much that Kobe put up 50 shots, it’s that he didn’t even acknowledge that he had teammates on many of those possessions. Anytime the Lakers pulled down a rebound, they handed the ball to Kobe and got out of his way. He didn’t try to find an open man – although, again, Kobe’s not an assist guy – he just did whatever he could to put up a shot and rack up the points. Kobe could’ve played the game 1-on-5 and there would’ve been no noticeable difference to what he did in his farewell game. His fans will tell you that he hit the game winning shot, and that he pulled off a full-court assist leading to a game-clinching dunk to close out his career. His haters – myself included – will say it’s a meaningless game and the assist only came about because he didn’t have time to get down the court on his own.
Kobe Bryant’s farewell was the perfect capper to his career. It allowed his fans to fawn over his 60 points and his critics to point out what a selfish player he was. It was a manufactured farce that doesn’t belong in the same conversation as the final games of John Elway, Ted Williams, Derek Jeter, or even Peyton Manning. It sure as shit wasn’t epic.
Kobe Bryant was the most selfish, me-first player of his generation, and perhaps of all time. He was, quite literally, never the best player in the league (Don’t believe me? Check this out…he was never better than third). You could argue that he wouldn’t make the Lakers’ all-time starting 5 (on a team that’s had players like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Shaquille O’Neal, this is far from a ridiculous statement). He rigged the draft to suit his desires. He never won a title without Shaquille O’Neal or Pau Gasol (compare Kobe’s supporting casts to Michael Jordan’s). He quite possibly cost his team a title that would’ve allowed him to match Jordan’s six. He tanked another series out of spite. He raped a woman and snitched on his teammates when lamenting his crime. For all that he got a heroes goodbye.
Not from me. I say good riddance. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.