ESNY

Now that we know Kobe Bryant will officially retire at season’s end, we discuss the future Hall of Famer’s career.

By Chip Murphy

Although I’m a diehard New York Knicks fan, my all-time favorite athlete is Kobe Bryant.

Maybe this is because my favorite professional wrestling characters have always been heels, and growing up I idolized Bryant and “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. Both men were beloved by half the crowd and hated by the other. Even as a kid that amazed me.

I’m 26-years-old now, and with the declining play of one of my childhood heroes, I have became less amazed and more hopeful that he would make the decision to walk away. No one wants to see their hero in the state that mine is currently in. When I heard yesterday’s news, I was relieved.

Simply put: I am happy to be writing this article.

There will never be another athlete who plays the antagonist role as well as Bryant. He taunts his opponents relentlessly and brushes off all criticism as not just undeserving but offensive. Call him whatever you want. He’s been labeled selfish, egotistical and arrogant, just to name a few. To Bryant and his supporters, it’s ultimate confidence. An attribute that he held as a teenager before even playing in an NBA game.

Bryant had been a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers for his entire life and naturally wanted to play for them. When the 1996 draft came along, the Lakers had the 24th pick and Bryant was one of the best prospects. There was no way he would reach his beloved team. That’s when this 17-year-old kid collaborated with his agent to make an unprecedented power play.

The New Jersey Nets decided they were going to draft Bryant with the No. 8 pick. Head coach John Calipari was thrilled, thinking he had the future of his franchise.

According to Jerry West’s biography, Calipari was conned out of taking Bryant by West himself. Hal Wiseel, who was with the Nets at the time, recalls the events well.

“Jerry wanted Kobe, so he basically called up and talked Cal out of drafting Kobe. West encouraged the Bryant family to talk to Calipari and explain that their son really wanted to play for the Lakers. “He knew if we didn’t take him at eight, he’d drop to Charlotte, and he could make the deal with Charlotte. Cal was young in the league and, hey, it’s Jerry West on the phone.”

Bryant and Tellem told Calipari that if he was drafted by the Nets he would choose to play in Italy instead. A 17-year-old kid had forced the hand of a coach who was coming off of a 30-win season and a Final Four appearance. Coach Cal chose Kerry Kittles, bad knees and all, and was fired the next season after starting 3-17.

There aren’t many Nets fans left, but the few that do exist must remember that time with disdain.

Kobe fans may like to tell you that he was just a kid who wanted to play for his favorite team and he did nothing wrong. I am sometimes guilty of being one of those fans. Like I stated earlier, this is an impartial article. What Bryant did was wrong. When I look at football players who pull this same act, and hold out from training camp for more money, it disgusts me.

What Bryant did was classless.

That story has been told many times, but when looking back on Bryant’s career it’s necessary to start at the tumultuous beginning. In retrospect we should have seen it all coming.

We remember when he came to blows with Chris Childs for seemingly no reason and when Matt Barnes tried to pull the fake throw the ball at your face trick, attempting to get the ice cold Bryant to flinch. Bryant shook his head as Barnes as if to say, “nice try.” We remember his feud with Ruben Patterson of all people because he foolishly nicknamed himself the “Kobe stopper.” LeBron James would not even acknowledge a “LeBron stopper,” but Bryant went out of his way to embarrass Patterson, an unknown in the league.

Kobe crossed the line with some of his feuds.

His on-court fist fights included “accidental” elbows to players like Manu Ginobili and Ron Artest. He was one of the league’s biggest trash-talkers, as were all the greatest players, and they should be able to talk. Michael Jordan never shut up for the entire game. Larry Bird as well.

Perhaps most well documented are the throw downs with his teammates.

The infamous ‘Soft like Charmin’ incident was not the first time he lost his cool with his guys. Shaq is were it all began. Both men admitted on Shaq’s podcast that they were two alpha dogs thrust into the same situation that butted heads because they both wanted to be the man.

It was well-known that Bryant, one of the hardest workers in league history, thought Shaq was lazy and didn’t appreciate his practice habits. Bryant and Shaq both acted like children when they called each other out in the media. When Bryant called out Shaq in an interview with Jim Grey it was the last straw.

The two legends may be friends now, but were sworn enemies then. Lakers owner Jerry Buss had had enough of Shaq, and Kobe had enough of Phil Jackson. The once great dynasty was killed. Bryant took all the blame, while Shaq took none as per usual.

He became the player everyone loved to hate. It didn’t even matter if you were a basketball fan, Kobe Bryant was a name that drew ire. Most say he brought it on himself. His actions rarely earned supporters, and his arrest for rape will always cast a cloud around his legacy. Not even the staunchest of Bryant defenders can ignore the mistakes but it is just as impossible for his haters to ignore his greatness.

The NBA’s fiercest competitor won 5 titles, 1 MVP, was a 17-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, 9-time All-Defense, and is third all time in career points with 32,683.

I love him, and will always treasure my memories of watching him play. I’m not a fool however, I understand why others despise him. I’m hopeful that the Kobe Bryant farewell tour can have at least a few more of those incredible moments. I don’t want to see my hero go out like this.

Why should anyone?

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