This is part 3 of my 5 part series, covering Kobe’s worst moment in each jersey. If you missed Part 1 or 2, click the Kobe tag (or right here) to catch up!
When people have a bone to pick regarding Kobe, it’s always about how selfish he was. In his #8 jersey, Kobe’s worst games were not when he was shooting 30 times a game. They were, oddly enough, when he chose to pass the ball instead. In 2003-04, Kobe had games during the season where Phil Jackson criticized him for ignoring his team and shooting at a higher than normal clip. He infamously responded by ignoring his team and not shooting for a whole half of basketball in a late season matchup against the Sacramento Kings. His lack of aggressiveness in this critical regular season game, which the Lakers lost in blowout fashion, nearly cost his team the Pacific division championship.
In 2005-06, he single-handedly dragged the Lakers to the 7th seed of the playoffs and to the brink of victory against the 2nd seeded Phoenix Suns with a 3-1 series lead. After dropping the next two games, Kobe “quit” on his team in Game 7, taking only 3 shots in the 2nd half. Again, by choosing to be passive and not the player that averaged over 35 PPG during the season, the Lakers exited the first round of the playoffs with a whimper, having been pummeled by 31.
Having said that, all of this is trumped by him snitching on Shaq in 2003.
Were we all just going to sit here and pretend that didn’t happen?
In 2003, the Lakers would look to reload, adding aging All-Stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Teaming them with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers could’ve chosen to start Phil Jackson at small forward, and they still would have made the NBA Finals that year. It was extremely unfair. But, during this same offseason, and before Lakers fans everywhere could begin celebrating their 4thchampionship in 5 years (God damn you, Detroit), Kobe Bryant would be accused of rape.
I have always been a realistic thinker. As a kid in high school, I would hear how so-and-so’s ugly ass was going out with this hot chick, and ask my friend,
“Hey man, how the fuck did that happen?” (I had a foul mouth back in high school).
To which my friend would reply,
“Eh, he plays football, man.”
“Oh yeah, huh?”
That’s all I needed to hear. I was still rather confused how this ugly dude was getting action, and here I was sitting with my hair pinned to my head by use of Aquanet and a beanie, goatee on my face, wearing clothes two sizes too big (it was the 2000’s) and Death Row Records medallion (but not the 90’s), getting no play whatsoever, but I got it. He could wear a football jersey, and chicks dig that.
So, upon hearing of Kobe’s problems, I was very quick to debunk the allegations when asked by my friends, who were not Lakers fans, looking to get a rise out of me. My argument was, Kobe played basketball. He was so good at it, he skipped college to play for the NBA. Which meant he didn’t just take some cheerleader to prom at his Lower Merion High School. He took world renowned R&B singer Brandy instead. In 2003, he played professionally for the Los Angeles Lakers. His wife was BANGIN’. With the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to, he didn’t need to rape anyone. Yes, Kobe was a cheater, but who wasn’t a cheater in the NBA? I’m glad you asked.
As far as cheaters go in the NBA and professional sports, everyone is suspect (Karla Knafel anyone?). They’re always on the road, away from their wives and families, they’re rich and famous, and they go out after work with their coworkers, who are also rich and famous. Imagine every single time you stepped out into the world, beautiful women everywhere began eyeing you and plotting ways to have your children. You are lying to yourselves if you believe your favorite sports hero can stay loyal to his wife simply because he’s wearing a ring on his finger (believe me, before the summer of 2003, I used to be so naive). But, there are three former NBA players who I can guarantee (keyword in this argument, guarantee) didn’t indulge in temptations of the flesh:
- AC Green. Adding his name to such a list is a bit unfair, as he was not a married man at any point of his professional career. But Green was an admitted virgin, meaning he was staying faithful to himself, at a time when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 80’s. THE EIGHTIES. WITH MAGIC JOHNSON. WHO HAS HIV NOW. AND JERRY BUSS OWNED THE TEAM. Are you kidding me? For Green to stick to his guns at a time when I’m sure the Lakers locker room showers needed to be wiped down of DNA, is a feat. AC Green is a saint.
- Doug Christie. You may not believe Doug Christie to be anyone special, but agreeing to be handcuffed to your wife at all times will guarantee you stay loyal. Some would describe this as excessive, but go back and read my description of an NBA player’s lifestyle. You could argue she chose to be married into it, but my argument is he chose to leave that lifestyle, and be faithful to one woman for the rest of his life. And those were the terms he agreed to, so he must really love her. Having said that, if you told me my wish of being a basketball player could come true, but I’d have to be Doug Christie, I’d reply with a resounding “HELL no!” Big time kudos to Mrs. Jackie Christie, for marrying one of the few NBA basketball players I can stamp 100% Guaranteed Faithful.
- David Robinson. I don’t know anything to be factual about the man, I simply believe him to be that wholesome. If it comes out somewhere that some strange ass ever wandered into Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, my entire innocence will be lost. Worse than when I found out there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. I won’t believe in anything anymore.
So, as far as I was concerned, Kobe was a cheater, but he was not a rapist. And, as I’ve just now covered, being a cheater who is also a professional athlete isn’t that bad after all. There was no hole in my argument. I defended Kobe against all the naysayers, and my faith never wavered. But then, here came the reports about how Kobe told investigators about the hush money Shaq paid to women during his infidelities. Oh man, Kobe. I couldn’t do it. And I tried.
“Kobe’s a kid, he was probably afraid of going to jail forever! You’ve seen Menace II Society, it was probably some Bill Duke-looking motherfucker who put an unopened condom on the table telling him over and over ‘You know you done fucked up, right?’ They shook him!”
“But then why did he snitch on Shaq? He didn’t have to say anything about Shaq, man! He’s his teammate, and he just outed him for no reason at all! Are you seriously going to sit there and defend a snitch?”
“ …. ”
It’s indefensible, it’s awful for a teammate to do, he violated bro-code, whatever you want to say, it’s true. And every single Kobe-hater I meet can throw that out there, and I have to smile and eat shit. Easily his worst moment, in any jersey.
Even as a more mature and experienced player, Kobe still had some selfish moments. Many of them actually came from the 2007-08 NBA season. The 2007 offseason began with Kobe demanding a trade from the Lakers, following yet another first round exit against the Phoenix Suns. Basketball analysts started dreaming up trade destinations for him, including teams like the Chicago Bulls, and the New York Knicks. He was also filmed questioning the Lakers front office for not trading teammate Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd (and aren’t we all glad they didn’t pull the trigger on this now? Please don’t be a GM next, Kobe). The team’s losing and Kobe’s complaining reached a fever pitch with the fans as well, causing a rain of boos to fall on Kobe from the Staples Center crowd as he was introduced on Opening Night (Kobe did shut up all of the idiots booing their favorite team’s best player by scoring 45 points).
But worst yet may have been the final two seasons of his career, where he was obviously not the same player he once was. Kobe shot a career low FG percentage (36.4%) and 3-point percentage (28.7%), while still managing to huck up his usual 20.4 shots per game in 2014-15, and a career-high 7.1 3-pointers per game in 2015-16. The latter season culminated in him going 1 on 5 against the Jazz, where his teammates urged him to shoot 50 shots en-route to a 60 point farewell game. 50 shots. IN A SINGLE GAME! It may have been what every Kobe fan wanted to see in his final game, but every single basketball fan (as well as some Lakers fans) were guaranteed disgusted by what they had just witnessed. Needless to say, the Lakers really could’ve used Passive Kobe during these seasons instead.
It’s hard for me to vote his 60 point Farewell Game as his worst moment in #24. After all, aside from being a fan of both basketball and the Lakers, I’m also a Kobe fan. I believe remaining a Lakers fan after Shaquille O’Neal was traded away turned you into one. You had no other choice but to root for Kobe, there was nobody else on the team for a few seasons!
I put my faith in Kobe. As other “Lakers fans” would tell me, “The Lakers aren’t winning shit without Shaq. You can’t win with just Kobe” I’d fire back, “Well, wait until he gets some help, they’ll win again. And when they do, I better not see you running around with his jersey on!” And when all I’d get were laughs in return, in my head I kept a list of fans I didn’t want back on the wagon when the wheels started rolling again. Which I knew in my heart of hearts that they would.
Kobe would go on to prove he was the best active player in the league for multiple seasons. He’d show he could drag a skeleton team on his back to the playoffs, and, given a little help, prove me right in that he could lead a team to a championship as well. In making the Lakers champions again, Kobe brought my prophecy to fruition. And those same “fans” who gave me shit did wind up buying and wearing his jerseys. They would stop watching Clipper games to celebrate the championships they thought Kobe couldn’t win. But did I slap the celebratory beer out of their hand to remind them of their follies? No, because I am not that petty (I am). It was a happy time, and I made sure to enjoy it with all Lakers fans, regardless of their allegiance.
So you can imagine how hard it was for me to watch Kobe in his last few seasons. I feel sorry for any kid being forced to watch a Lakers game with their father (probably someone my age) telling them Kobe was their favorite player, only to walk away scratching their head as their old man’s hero shot a career low FG% in what was most likely a losing effort. Yes, Kobe scored 60 points in his final game, but he was a shell of himself already. People celebrating it were clearly old fans of his, as any kid who has this as their only reference to his legend saw a dude ignore his team and jack up 50 shots to score 60 points in a game that didn’t mean shit. That wasn’t Kobe. He should have just retired after he sank those free throws standing on a ruptured Achilles.
I’m sure a lot of people wish he retired that way. Much the way people wish Jordan retired holding that gooseneck to win the 1998 NBA Finals. But we’re not in their shoes, and hindsight is always 20/20. Only the players can decide when to say goodbye to the sport. Jordan came back and played for the Washington Wizards. Yes, he scored 51 points against the Hornets at age 38, and 41 against the Pacers at age 40, but does anybody choose to remember any of that when we think of Mike?
Kobe’s last game reminded me of every stupid fan laughing at me as I defended him. Because in the end, he gave his critics what they were looking for, by confirming what they had always thought of him: Kobe’s a ballhog and the Lakers aren’t going anywhere with him as the best player on the team. And for someone who has defended him his entire career, that just tears me apart.
… But, I can still point to this moment and say, “OK, Kobe scored 60 points on 50 shots in his final game. You want a measuring stick for how hard that is? Paul Pierce scored 81 points on 70 shots in his last SEASON!” 60 points is still 60 points, so it’s not beyond defending.
What I cant defend is the L.A. Times “White Hot” photoshoot. I won’t even try. This is a shoe-in for his worst moment wearing #24, and it’s not even close: Because the photos are that bad, and because he inexplicably gave photo-shoot “stylist” James Valeri his consent to use them. I remain convinced that Valeri is a hypnotist and an undercover Celtics fan.
Ugh… WHY KOBE???
Tune in next week for Part 4 of my 5 part series: Kobe’s Greatest Season.
This post was written as a tongue-in-cheek reminder to you, the reader, that Kobe is human, after all. I am willing to admit that none of us will ever know what truly happened in Eagle Rock, Colorado, or just how loyal professional athletes are to their significant others. I do not 100% believe all that I have written on those subjects, but should anyone choose to argue either point with me, recognize I will side with Kobe, EVERY TIME, and no one is safe (except for the impeccable David Robinson, of course). For more shameless Kobe apologies, as well as a random NBA rant or two, follow me on Twitter, @cleanupglass