I’ll Be There

Kobe Bryant is the tragic hero of the NBA.

The thing with tragic heroes is that they are flawed in some way that will ultimately be there downfall (welcome to English Lit 101). They have some irreversible trait that never yields even when most opportune (think Achilles’ ankle). The same thing that makes them, the tragic hero, great is exactly the same thing that will lead to their eventual tumble down from the slopes of grace.

Kobe’s flaw is, obviously, his relentless desire to be the best and to make sure everyone else knows it. It is the same drive that led Michael to be the greatest of all time. However, Michael had some golden sheath that covered him like a guardian angel, protecting him and deflecting any negative press that would result from his missteps (is Nike a guardian angel?). Kobe has not been so lucky.

Unlike Mike, Kobe has had his life put under the intense media microscope and has been dissected by a hungry nation of haters and combatants. For instance the whole Shaq fiasco. If you think the Conan and NBC/Leno feud was intense this thing makes that look like a couple of neighbors arguing over the exact property line and if the shrubbery is on the correct side.

After Shaq was traded to Miami, everyone was of the opinion that Kobe was the bad guy who forced the lovable Shaq out of LA and ruined possibly another run of championships for the Lakers (this coming after the allegations from Colorado and the whole trauma that followed). Everyone thought that Kobe was the arrogant young gun who wouldn’t know a good thing if it hit him square in the jaw. He was the scapegoat, the sole destroyer of the dominant franchise of the decade.

But still, he persists. He carries on when all logic tells him to stop, desist, and take it easy. For instance, his too many to count injuries (finger, ankle, other ankle, countless other minor booboos). Until he just sat out the Lakers’ last game, he didn’t miss a single start, although he looked awful on more than one occasion. And since Shaq has now left every team he has been on with not so great feelings Kobe looks more like the frustrated superstar who had to carry an overweight and under motivated Shaq who was fed up with dealing with a player who didn’t have the commitment, or perceived commitment, that he routinely displayed.

All prevailing wisdom would have indicated that he should’ve rested, the prescribed treatment for his injuries, and sit out for a month or so while one of the deepest teams in the league attempts to stay afloat in the very tough Western Conference. Sure, he may miss 15-20 games in the process, keeping him out of any legitimate MVP considerations, but the team might be better in the long run with a now healthy and rested top 2 player in the league.

There was a lot of talk about his string of 82 games started seasons, which could be a major factor in his decision. But I am of the opinion that I think that he doesn’t think that the Lakers could sustain excellence without him (to be fair, there is no evidence to the contrary, at least none that comes to mind). He thinks that in order for his team to have a legitimate shot each and every night that he needs to be out on the floor with his teammates.

His need to be out on the floor, to be the best there is and makes the argument for one of the best ever, may cost him this season. Of course, who knows? Nobody, and I repeat, nobody thought that the Saints were even going to make the Super Bowl let alone win it after they lost three straight games at the end of the regular season (speaking of which, congrats Saints even though the Champ thought it was game over in the first quarter).

And even though LeBron has finally overtaken Kobe as the best in the league this year, the Lakers are clearly the favorites if Kobe is healthy regardless of whom they are playing. A healthy Kobe, that is. An unhealthy Kobe takes more shots to compensate for his injuries (specifically the finger); taking shots away from teammates (which isn’t always a bad thing) and still may only notch 17 points. An unhealthy Kobe is more likely to have some Jekyll and Hyde statistics as opposed to a healthy Kobe when you expect a vigorous 28 or so a night with effective shot selection.

I don’t know. Kobe is great enough to overcome injuries like these. Most players would be sidelined right away, no questions asked. But Kobe is obviously different. Things, obstacles, hurdles that would impede or prohibit or players, even stars, are just blips on Kobe’s radar.

Maybe his near constant play over the past two or three years in junction with his already long and strenuous professional career that has him competing on the highest level every night has caught up to him, like Garnett. It is hard to go at this constant pace when you have already worn the tread on the tires thin. He doesn’t have the explosion that he used to play with. He doesn’t get to the rim like the Kobe of even two or three years ago.

His need to show everyone else what he knows to be true has certainly taken its toll. On the Olympics, he was the alpha dog. He was the go to guy and the lockdown defender. He showed LeBron and Wade and Anthony what dedication and work ethic and defense are all about. He has worked tirelessly in the offseason with legendary players on developing a low post game, something oddly refreshing for a 6’6” shooting guard.

Who knows how the Kobe saga will continue to unfold? His ruthless persona and desire to be great is slowly weathering away and diminishing his physical tools and possibly also hampering the play and potential of his team.

“I’m chasing perfection.”

– Kobe Bryant


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