I watched the documentary presented on ESPN today by Spike Lee on Kobe Bryant. It follows Bryant, with his own commentary, from a game near the end of his 2008 MVP season.
Kobe has been under scrutiny for years now. More recently on this very website there was a columnist who portrayed Kobe as unsportsmanlike for apparently "belittling" his opponents. This is completely based on his on-court actions, like when he taunts Shane Battier. You have to remember though, when you're on the playing field, like any sport, you are so full of adrenaline and such that things like this are second nature. Personally, I would do the same thing, and if you were dominating at the highest level I find it hard to believe you wouldn't either.
So here's big, bad, taunting, undeserving Kobe Bryant.
The first thing Spike Lee says is that Kobe is "one of the most driven, passionate athletes playing today." Does that speak to you in any way? He's so passionate and gets so into playing that he starts smack talking. So are you willing to take anything away from the Detroit Bad Boys because they liked to get physical and get personal? Of course not, but when it comes to Kobe, everyone wants to put him down. Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Micheal Jordan did this too, so is he unsportsmanlike too?
The documentary starts on April 13th, 2008, when Kobe and the Lakers were set to play against the then World Champion San Antonio Spurs for Home Court Advantage in the western conference. All the while, Steven A. Smith, and Jeff Van Gundy are talking about his MVP chances with a win tonight. Kobe said that he wasn't even thinking about MVP, he was thinking about getting his team the best chance to win a championship by gaining Home Court.
The Lakers are in the tunnel, getting ready for the big game and something Kobe says surprises me. He says he always gets goose bumps in the tunnel before the game. Amazing, someone who has been the best for quite a number of years, been playing in the league for 12 years, and he still gets goose bumps before every game.
Kobe's disrespectful right? Well, as soon as the shot goes on Ginobli, Bryant says "That's a bad boy right there, I have so much respect for his game. He's an incredible competitor. It's a shame he didn't get to play in this ballgame, and I enjoy playing against him."
He then goes on to say into the game "A lot of people hate playing against Bruce Bowen, because he grabs and he holds, and all that stuff. I love it. It reminds me of the eighties man, when they would let you hit, and grab, and hold, and scratch, and claw, I think that's fantastic." Kobe grew up watching and idolizing the players of the eighties and their physical style of play. He was a kid and looked up to those players, basketball was a big part of his life even at a young age because his father was a playing professionally in Italy.
Throughout this game Kobe is constantly helping his teammates by barking out orders any chance he gets. He is the only one that seems to be vocal out there, he leads the team on the court and off clearly. The most amazing thing is that no one gets their egos hurt, they all just keep quiet and listen to exactly what he has to say, they trust him to the fullest, at least when it comes to basketball. Also, Kobe can barely contain himself while commentating the documentary. He commentated this film after he scored 61 on Spike's beloved Knicks and said he wanted to play badly when he was watching the tape. The guy's love for the game is hard to match.
There is a time where Phil Jackson and Kobe hold up the hand signal "5", without ever looking at each other and realizing they were calling the same play. Kobe says "That's just from years of being around each other, sometimes we call the same play without ever realizing that the other is calling it. We both see the same things and notice the same things, it's pretty crazy."
"I don't think a lot of fans understand the amount of communication and execution that goes into the game of basketball, at least on our team. You know Phil and his coaching staff preach that to us, it's about execution. Yeah, you have to emotionally be invested in the game, you have to play hard, play with a lot of energy, but you gotta execute. I think that's what great about our team, and you know having smart players on the team. We talk about execution all the time, I mean we can't stress that enough."
Kobe then goes up for a crazy layup attempt, the type of ones he always misses against like 3 defenders. He says "That's just doing too much, you know dumb play by me. (laughs at himself) That's just a dumb play. Damn it."
He banks a shot in and says "I actually stole that one from Tim Duncan. I played one on one against him before the All-Star game a few years back. I learned the bank shot from him. So I just stole it from him, swagger jacked him (laughs)." "Tim Duncan, the best Power Forward of all-time".
Kobe swishes a 3 on an inbound play and says "Gotcha." right in Kirk Thomas' face with the ball about half way to the bucket. He says "That felt great. Me and Kirk always mess around with each other, he always loves hitting me with illegal screens, and I'm always throwing those little elbows here and there so I had to let him know that that one was good."
Yet another example of people just trying to judge athletes just because of how their actions on the court seem arrogant, without even knowing why the person does it. During Sasha Vuijacic's free throws, Kobe starts talking to Kirk Thomas and asks him "You going to play until you like 50? C'mon man." They both began smiling as Bryant commentated "See, that's why I was talking trash to him. Now he's a throwback player, man he's going to foul you, he's going to foul you hard. You gotta love it."
"Man this is a fun game. Now all that comes from preparation. You know that's me, at home, watchin' film. And preparing and getting ready for this game. So I can comunicate with my teammates and make them better. There's more to making teammates better than passing them the ball. You know you gotta teach them a lot of the things that you know, the way that you prepare for the game. There's so many different ways on making guys better."
After a 8-0 run by San Antonio after Kobe hits the bench, Kobe has this to say. "Phil won't call a timeout when that happens either. He likes the guys kind of digging themselves out of the hole a little bit. Teams go on runs and you aren't playing as well unless you try to crawl out of your own grave." That's specifically to people who doubt Phil Jackson when he chooses not to call a timeout. It's not without reason
Soon after Kobe looks at Phil and says "Let's go". Phil tells him to get up and head to the scores table while Kobe laughs commentating. He says "That's called, get my ass in the game, I've been over here long enough!, let's go."
After Lamar Odom hits a jumpshot Kobe states "Lamar is just an incredibly talented basketball player. At his size, his versatility, really to shoot the ball. His versatility is what makes us go."
I think I've proven my point here. All this "horrible person" labels you try to pin on Kobe go on undeserved in terms of how he is on the court. The only people that can judge him off the court would be his friends that he speaks to on a regular basis and hangs out with. So for writers and others to try to make him seem like that, it just doesn't make sense. I don't know if it's because it hurts your ego somehow when he taunts a player of your favorite team but it's evident that it's all in good nature, Kobe grew up watching NBA in the 80's so if you think about it, he has an extraordinary "Old School" basketball attitude if anything . Maybe if people like the ones who think of him as a negative personality would just losen up and not cry over a little contact or good natured trash talking, then maybe, just maybe, the NBA could still be like the glory days of the 80's instead of the mainstream society it falls under today.
Kobe is a great leader, who possesses as much, if not more respect and influence among the Lakers as Phil Jackson. He never stops giving advice to his teammates, not in an arrogant way, but rather a caring way. Like a father teaches his son. He gives all respect due to any player in the league. Trash talking in no way labels him as disrespectful, in fact, most of the times in which he trash talks he follows that up by saying how much respect he has for that person in the commentary, it's the phycological aspect of the game. It's been part of sports for quite some time so for people to knitpick it's just dumb.
Kobe is probably one of the best athletes of our era and I doubt anyone can challenge me on that statement. I don't know if Kobe is a terrible person off the court but on the court, he's one of the best. Kobe Bryant just goes out every night and does his job, he's just doin' work.
But what does MVP mean to you Kobe?
"I think what's special about this  season is I felt like we were such a community. We're such a great team, we all got along. I felt like it was an award that we shared together. Which made it more special because I felt like we did it. You know because they made me better. By them, you know getting in the gym and working out, working on their game, making plays and making shots, that in turn brought me the MVP. You know in the fast I hear a lot of my fans say that I should have won it before. Maybe, maybe not, I don't know, but winning the MVP was a great honor, it was something we shared together as a team."
Selfish? Decide for yourself.