Kobe Bryant was many things to many people, hero, villain, star, etc. Let’s examine the complicated legacy of a complicated man.
He was a villain, he was a hero. He was a volatile teammate that no one wanted to play with, and he was a beloved mentor to many young stars. He was something to everyone and nothing to no one. He was #8 and #24. There was always a duality with Kobe Bryant, always complicated feelings.
Not yet the “Black Mamba,” Bryant was just a teenager when he was drafted. Overconfident, fearless despite being a boy among men. He never met a shot he didn’t like, but there was a youthful exuberance in everything he did. Kobe became everything to a generation of Lakers fans, and in turn NBA fans.
After he and Shaq teamed up they were supposed to dominate the NBA for a decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Egos grew along with resentment. Kobe wanted his own team and was bright enough to see through Phil Jackson’s attempts to keep him in the fold. Jackson wanted to choose Shaq, but owner Dr. Jerry Buss knew where Lakers Nation’s hearts truly were. Shaq went to the Heat and the Mamba was unleashed.
Bryant could not tolerate anything less than perfection. His teams had to win, they had to win with him leading the charge, and anything less was unacceptable. The list of teammates who couldn’t meet his expectations was long and featured both stars and role players. I’m fairly certain he was at least 70 percent responsible for Dwight Howard’s career going off the rails. Kobe was almost hauntedly driven and bore no dead weight around him.
David Stern kiboshing the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade killed his last real chance to be on a championship-level team. The Steve Nash, Dwight Howard debacle was a Hail Mary that never really had a chance.
Then his injuries mounted and that was that. He fought it off as long as he could but when he left in 2016, it was time to go. Of course, he scored 60 in his last game, including the game-deciding three-pointer. He also shot 22 of 50 from the floor. That was Kobe again, great but in a complicated way.
Along the way, he won five championships, two finals MVPs, a league MVP, and had an 81 point game. There was also calling a referee a slur, the Eagle Colorado incident (which included throwing a teammate under the bus), and the selfish play. We all knew Kobe was a great player….we weren’t sure about Kobe the person.
After retirement, Kobe branched out into film, began his Musecage endeavor, won an Academy Award, and seemed to have so much more coming in his second act. He became a mentor to young stars trying to navigate their way through the league and was starting to soften his image. He even was coaching his daughter’s AAU team.
Which brings us to where we stand today. The news was shocking and surreal. His daughter being on the helicopter with him makes it all the more horrific and takes the mind places it doesn’t want to go. Seven others with him, and there are no words that can be said or written that even begin to deal with loss and pain on that scope.
There’s another article to be written about TMZ and decency, and how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction as a society, but that’s not this one. This is just to think one more time about the complicated but undeniable legacy of Kobe. The championships, the scoring titles, the accolades.
Kobe was every Lakers fan’s hero. He also once dropped 61 on the Knicks and broke the beloved Bernard King’s MSG scoring record. Always the villain. Hero, villain, whatever he was to you, he always made you feel something. May he and his daughter rest in peace.
How did you feel about Kobe? Let us know in the comments section below or on social media.