I’m going to drop a bomb on you here: Kobe Bryant is a really, really controversial player. His every move and word is dissected and debated to a ridiculous degree, and the full extent to which we (those in, around, and intrigued in the game of basketball) obsess over Bryant is beyond ridiculous.
Among the millions of possible implications of this, I’d like to point you in the direction of two, in particular:
- With the accessibility of information and media at an all-time high, fans consume more tidbits about Kobe Bryant the basketball player and Kobe Bryant the man than they ever have about any other player in NBA history…with the possible exception of LeBron James.
- As such, due to the ludicrous amount of content the adoring and not-so-adoring public have consumed, it’s absolutely, positively impossible for the Kobe mythology to achieve any sort of satisfying conclusion.
This isn’t in any way an indictment of Bryant’s game, other than to say that his advocates and critics are so distant in their opinions of all things Kobe that there can be no consensus. Supposing that’s somehow an indictment. Kobe is an incredibly driven player who has always wanted nothing more than to be conclusively better than Jordan…and it’s Bryant’s curse that he’ll forever walk through life in a position of uncertainty. We can debate all day and night about Kobe’s relative place in history, but at the end of the day, we’ll still be miles away from any kind of resolution. That’s not because he’s borderline in any regard or even because his career is the farthest thing from over. It’s just because he’s Kobe. We care too much about the way he’s evaluated and perceived to let anything rest, and any conclusions that are drawn about Kobe’s legacy will be predicated on an endless string of praise and backlash against that praise, both from others and from within ourselves. I don’t think it’s impossible that even in Bryant’s 14th year in the league, we’re still not entirely sure what to make of him.
When Kobe finally does decide to hang ’em up, the credits will not roll. “THE END” will not appear in script inside an intricate line frame, nor will a tasteful and understated “fin.” appear in the bottom corner. There will be no closure whatsoever, because his career has never coincided with concord, even if always with conviction. The Kobe debates will rage on forever. If he wins three more championships, the presence of Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol will have been a crutch. If he never again finds himself hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, he’s still an MVP, a four-time NBA champ, a top-notch scorer and defender, and only the face of a basketball generation. He won’t be placed in a pantheon or grouped with a contemporary, but he’ll stand all by his lonesome. The personality, the performances, and the particulars leave no other possibility.