Witnessing Confidence, Validation and Candor

Let me give you a brief story about when my opinion of Kobe Bryant changed.

I used to hate the guy. Couldn’t stand him. It had nothing really to do with him ripping the heart out of my team or butting heads with Shaq in any way. There was just something about him. The arrogance was too much for me. If he scored 40 points, I’d bash his shot selection and his lack of gumption for wanting to share the ball. He was a “ball hog” and a “detriment to his team.”

To be honest with you, this completely stemmed because he was too much like Michael Jordan. Whether you want to admit it or not, this guy is basically Jordan. He’s not as good and never has been or will be. But he’s a clone of Jordan in the same way that the Sleazy Steve from Multiplicity was a clone of regular Steve. It’s all of the worst qualities in basically the same package.

I was protective of Michael Jordan at the time. He was clearly the greatest and we weren’t going to be seeing much of him for the rest of our lives. We had to remember the moments he gave us and try to keep them in the proper perspective. We had to protect the legacy he gave us to guard. And when Kobe came into the league, moved on from the rookie airballs against the Jazz and started learning how to destroy everybody on the court, I (like many others) got defensive.

When he won titles, it was because of Shaq. When he scored a ton of points, it was because he was selfish. When he got assists, it was because he was trying to trick us into thinking he was a team player. Whatever the accomplishment was that he just met, I had an excuse for it. But then it all changed.

He scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. I still remember getting the text from my friend (and Lakers fan), Chris, telling me that he finished with 81. I figured it was a typo or Chris was trying to brag about his burgeoning NBA 2K skills. It was neither. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a regular season professional basketball game against a professional basketball team. At that point, I had nothing to say about him that didn’t gush with respect. It was like a switch had been flipped in my mind and every previous bit of hatred for the guy had never existed. I was sold on Kobe Bryant.

The bravado and arrogance that rubbed me in all of the wrong ways and none of the fun ways was merely an acute sense of confidence. Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying he’s arrogant as all hell but I was able to justify it in my mind as plain old confidence. He didn’t want to pass in clutch situations because he didn’t trust his teammates. People viewed that as him being the anti-christ but it was completely legit. If you’re the best player in the world, why would you pass the ball if you have the best chance at making the shot? I got it finally and it was the 81-point game that solidified it for me. The confidence had been proven to be valid. And I guess all along, that’s what I needed from Kobe to accept what he did on the court.

It doesn’t mean that since that day I’ve agreed with everything he’s done. It’s probably far from it. But I didn’t loathe him anymore. I respected and feared him. I didn’t care about the person or the motives. I just wanted to see him play basketball and appreciate it.

And that’s what I want from my superstars now. I want the attitude that should come with the skills.

When I saw Vin Diesel on The Tonight Show (in what had to be one of his first appearances on the show), I was completely disappointed. I knew next to nothing about Vin. I knew he was playing bad-ass characters. I knew he played jerks and bullies. But what I didn’t know that he was the type of guy who would tell people to go for their dreams in real life. That wasn’t who I wanted him to be. I wanted him to tell me that he was better than me. I wanted him to walk past me on the street and think nothing of me if I needed help. I wanted him to show he was better than me if that was the image he portrayed in his everyday job. I didn’t get that. I got a wuss and I was disenchanted with him immediately.

That’s where I’ve been with LeBron James for much of his career. You could tell he was going to eventually be the best player in the league (not all-time).

He was a freight train like Sterling Sharpe.

But he was always cultivating his image. He had a plan to justify the insane amount of hype bestowed upon him as a teenager. He was going to become a billionaire athlete. He was going to become a global icon. He was going to be a one-man business model. And all of that is fine. It’s what we’ve heard him talk about before and what others have said about him. But the problem for me was it was the first thing on his mind.

It wasn’t basketball and it wasn’t winning. Now are those assumptions I made about him? Most likely, yes. But they were still vibes that he gave off that a lot of people received from him, whether they were true or not. That’s been my issue with him. He talks a lot in the media but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him actually say anything. He’s well groomed for dealing with the press. He speaks in clichés and smart marketing strategies. That’s not what I want in my superstars.

But what he said yesterday… THIS is what I want in my superstars.

This is what I wanted from LeBron all along. This is what I wanted from Vin Diesel on The Tonight Show. This is what I always got from Michael Jordan because he was so good at doing the marketing thing while reminding everybody that you couldn’t beat him.

I want that arrogance. I want that supreme confidence. I want LeBron to admit he can do whatever the hell he wants on a basketball court. Could he average a triple double? Look at his numbers; he’s pretty much doing it already in the month of March (28.4 points, 8.8 assists, 8.2 rebounds). Could he win the next 10 scoring titles if that was his wish? Yes, and there aren’t enough Kevin Durant jumpers to convince me otherwise.

I love that I saw that from LeBron. I love that he was candid in a REAL way and not in some packaged, laminated product he was trying to push onto me.

This is in a sense validation of what I see from him on a nightly basis. He IS that good and more importantly, he knows it and I’ve wanted to know that he knows it. Re-watch the final 10 seconds of that clip again. It gave me chills in the same way that his performance against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals did. I love the certainty.

LeBron showed me what I’ve wanted from him all along. And I’m ready to change my opinion on what I think of him.

Seth Carstens