Kobe Bryant knows he’s a superstar.
He has won five championships. He ranks fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He trains at a level not even Michael Jordan matched.
The Lakers traded a quality center for him before he ever played beyond high school. They jettisoned Shaquille O’Neal for him. They gave him a huge contract extension without him even having to negotiate for it.
Based on his own talent and the Lakers’ enabling, Kobe has every reason to believe he’s above everyone else.
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That’s why he can call out the Lakers’ front office. That’s why he can make the “selfish” demand the Lakers contend the next two seasons, even if their roster is more conducive to rebuilding. That’s why he can call ESPN voters who ranked him No. 40 in the NBA “idiots.”
But that sense of entitlement has become increasingly damaging as Kobe’s production has fallen in recent years. It’s one thing for Kobe to act spoiled when he has Shaq or Gasol helping him win rings.
I don’t know if Kobe could ever do it alone, but now he’ll have to if the Lakers have a chance of winning another title.
Because he keeps alienating everybody.
Henry Abbott of ESPN has written a fantastically detailed article on the ways Kobe serves as a detriment to the Lakers. It includes several stories of players shunning the Lakers, in part, due to Kobe’s presence.
Dwight Howard is one of the most famous examples. Sure, Kobe participated in Howard’s meeting with the Lakers during free agency, but it didn’t exactly go well. Abbott:
Kupchak, Howard’s closest ally on the team, prepped the Lakers’ pitch. One big point: Listen carefully. Another: Dress appropriately. “Our approach,” a Lakers source explained at the time, “is that we are interviewing for the job. We want to show that this is a place his dreams can come true.”
As the Lakers’ contingent settled into the conference room’s ergonomic chairs, it was clear that two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, in a nice crisp shirt, listening attentively, was running Kupchak’s game plan. But Bryant showed up, according to a person in the room, in “hoops shorts, a T-shirt and a gold chain.” He had also packed an attitude.
When Howard asked why his teammates let the injured center take all the flak when the Lakers’ season went south, Nash said he didn’t know that Howard had felt that way and that had he known, he would have acted differently. Bryant, on the other hand, offered a crash course in developing thick skin and a mini lecture on learning how to win. Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard that Bryant’s lecture was “a complete turnoff” for Howard.
Apparently, Kobe didn’t learn much from that. Even when he flew back to Los Angeles this summer for Carmelo Anthony’s free-agent meeting, Kobe wasn’t prepared. Abbott:
And the particular way that recruitment was botched — Bryant made news by flying home from Europe, but somehow wires got crossed and he missed the meeting anyway — reminded Lakers insiders of the manner in which he nearly alienated Steve Nash in 2012. In the days before LA acquired Nash, sources say, the point guard wanted to hear from Bryant that the Lakers’ star was amenable to having Nash control the ball much of the time — a key tenet of the D’Antoni offense from the Suns days. When Lakers brass asked Bryant to call Nash, Bryant failed to do so, saying he preferred that Nash call him. The pettiness took days to resolve and nearly scuttled the deal.
The Lakers got Nash, though he has been too old to help much. Paul George, though, is definitely not too old. Still, Kobe’s presence interfered. Abbott:
Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team’s safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.
There are other examples – including Ramon Sessions – in Abbott’s article, which also contains plenty of quotes from anonymous executives and agents painting an unfavorable picture of Kobe’s people skills. It’s worth reading.
To be fair, I think some of the criticism is overblown. George, for example, would have been a restricted free agent, and the Pacers paid him more than the Lakers could have. Blaming Kobe’s presence might be an easy cover for taking the money, the most common reason players sign somewhere but one that gets poor PR.
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There are also always agendas from anonymous sources, and I’m sure Kobe has rubbed some the wrong way. This is an easy time to kick him while he’s down.
Some players (like Darius Morris) fondly recall their time playing with Kobe. Others (like Smush Parker) do not.
The view of Kobe is clearly mixed.
However, to anyone who claims Abbott is out to get Kobe and looked only for sources who had an axe to grind, I’m certain that’s not the case. It’s far more likely Abbott holds his opinion of Kobe because of what he’s learned talking to people.
Abbott’s article provides excellent insight into why some people perceive Kobe the way they do. Whether or not you agree, it’s worth reading.