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Reassessing Kobe Bryant

By Leonard Wilks

I’ve always been a Laker fan.  I have been following the Lakers since their days of mediocrity in the early 1990’s when they had such cool cats like Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, and Elden Campbell.  Though each were not yet in their primes, and not yet prepared to lead LA to the next level, they were very entertaining to watch, and they played their hearts out.

Then in the fateful summer of 1996, the Lakers signed Shaquille O’Neal to a lucrative long-term contract, and acquired Kobe Bryant on draft day with a trade with the then-Charlotte Hornets.  This, as everybody knows, marked the beginning of the Laker’s three-peat with the enigmatic dynamic duo. 

Despite consistently winning during the regular season, the Lakers could not advance to the NBA finals.  It wasn’t until the Laker’s hired Coach Phil Jackson in the summer of 1999 that the Lakers finally put it all together.  The Zenmaster that is Jackson, established his famed triangle offense with O’Neal as the focal point.  Man, were the Lakers a sight to watch that year, and the proceeding three years, as they absolutely dominated the competition.  The inside-outside combination of O’Neal and Bryant was too much too handle for the opposition.  And the Lakers went on to win three consecutive championships.  That was the high.

During that incredible run, the Lakers had a fabulous system in place.  Shaq was the main man in the middle, and Kobe benefited from that.  But perhaps Kobe never believed that - or perhaps he did, and that was what made him burn with jealousy to become the ’main man’ himself.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Kobe Bryant.  I’m very thankful for his accomplishments for the Lakers.  There is no doubt that he is an extremely talented basketball player, who has a solid record of coming through in the clutch.  But there was always something about his personality, which I felt did not make him truly a team player.     

There was the constant feuding between the two superstars with Kobe wanting more responsibility and limelight.  I can appreciate his hunger for fulfilling his full potential, but come on, why mess with a winning formula – Don’t fix what ain’t broke.  I mean, everybody on that Laker team acknowledge that there would be no championship without Shaq, but question whether there would be no championship without Kobe.   

Well following their last championship, the Lakers always a perennial favorite to win the title faltered the following season, but were right back in the big game for last-season’s final against the Detroit Pistons.  That series saw Kobe contained by the long-limbed Tayshaun Prince, as the Pistons went on with the improbable upset over the overwhelming favorites.  Granted, Kobe may have had other things on his mind, you know, rape case and all.  But he had always expressed that he appreciated playing basketball as an escape from his turbulent reality.      

Enter this past summer where first Phil Jackson announces his retirement, one championship short of surpassing the great Red Auerbach.  Then the Lakers traded Shaq to Miami.  And now all we have is Kobe to lead the team. 

As a Laker fan, I am intrigued to see what Kobe can do, but at the same time, I happen to agree with most critics that the Lakers will be a former shell of itself, fighting to make a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.  My assessment of Kobe?  Well not too much had changed, talented though individualistic basketball player, not capable of greatness by his lonesome.  

NOW, enter the recent release of excerpts from Phil Jackson’s self-explanatory upcoming book: The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.  Now I respect Phil Jackson.  He knows what he’s doing.  Perhaps he had coached star-studded teams, but so has many others, but none (except Auerbach) had his crudentials of 8 championship rings.  The man knows what he’s doing! 

And thus I was shocked in reading some of the telling accounts in his book, which was not so Kobe-friendly.  For example:

  • Jackson said that he was in constant psychological warfare with Bryant
  • That O’Neal’s presence on the team would affect where he was going to sign as a free-agent at the end of the year.
  • That Bryant was miffed about not having a larger jet to fly him to his trial hearings in Colorado.
  • Jackson thought Bryant was disrespectful during the season, whether mocking him or flat-out defying orders – That kid won’t listen to anyone

Now I question Jackson’s judgement about releasing this to the press, who will obviously magnify this and blow it out of proportion, but even Jackson acknowledged that his anger towards Bryant must have run deeper than he originally thought. 

In any case, it’s out.  The Lakers and Kobe are not responding – probably the best thing to do.  But it is out, so what concessions does that leave a Laker fan? 

If I was unsure whether Kobe Bryant was individualistic and selfish, I am absolutely sure now.  My new assessment – The man will try very hard, successfully or not, to win without Shaq, but because of him, and the power he holds over owner Jerry Buss, I will boycott the Lakers and adopt the Clippers as my new team.  At least, until Kobe is outta there.    


Name: Leonard Wilks

Age: 24

Location: Los Angeles, California

Occupation: Marketing Executive

Favorite Team: (now) Los Angeles Clippers

Favorite Former Player: James Worthy

Favorite Current Player: Elton Brand, Los Angeles Clippers

Most Hated Team: (now) Los Angeles Lakers

Most Hated Player: Kobe Bryant

Prediction for Eastern Champs: Miami Heat

Prediction for Western Champs: San Antonio Spurs

Prediction for NBA Champs: Miami Heat