In a year when so many were eager to appoint a new king, Kobe Bryant took the crown the old fashioned way – he earned it.
Nothing was given to Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers during the 08-09 season. As a collective, they fought their way from the 39-point embarrassment in Boston to paying forward the pain in Orlando a year later.
There really is no debate regarding who the best player on the planet is. Kobe Bryant stands alone atop the NBA food chain. He feasts on all and no other feasts on him. From the scowl in game one to the jubilant jumps for joy in game five, from Beijing to Orlando, Kobe’s mission was the same as it ever was: To take the hearts of his foes and destroy the will of the opposition.
2009 will be remembered as the year when the Laker haters of the word ran out of real estate. They said Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq. They said Pau Gasol was too soft. They said Jerry Buss would never win after dealing the Diesel. They said Phil Jackson couldn’t build a winner.
Now what will they say?
Those same aforementioned statements have finally been put to bed and now the hate filled truth has come to light. They can only muster up, “I just don’t like Kobe” and “the Lakers just aren’t likeable”.
Make no mistake, KB24 has never played for public approval, he plays for keeps. Likeability has earned Charles Barkley a lucrative career in broadcasting, but he’d gladly exchange his colorful banter for any one of Kobe’s four rings.
If you never stepped foot in the Forum in Inglewood, or have never seen the inside of Staples Center in the heart of downtown, they you just don’t know the pressure that comes with donning a purple and gold jersey. There are no banners hung for anything less than gold trophies. The ghosts of the greatest players to ever play the game hover above you in form of retired jersey numbers.
Kobe thrives on the pressure; it’s his only competition at this point in time.
Where the Kobe hate stems from is simple. Never mind the controversy of the Shaq trade. Forget about the trial in Denver. Ignore the gripes for better talent to surround him. It can all be traced to the essence of who Kobe Bryant is.
You see, when you and your friends were taking the city bus to the playground, sporting mismatched gear and tattered kicks, Kobe was the kid whose dad drove him to the park. He sported fresh, matching gear and a pair of shoes you’d never wear on the blacktop. He was that spoiled brat who you assumed wouldn’t know adversity if it dunked on him wearing a #23 Bulls jersey. You and your boys looked and laughed as he stretched and took off his warm up jacket. Then, he called next, picked his squad and proceeded to kill every human being who dared to come between him and victory.
In an era when so many were eager to find the new Air Apparent, Kobe is the only one who dared to make the best challenge for the throne vacated by MJ.
People hate Bryant because he so arrogantly pulled on Superman’s cape. They can’t stand that he would actually aspire to unseat a figure larger than the game. Bryant is to Jordan what Aaron is to Ruth. He’s simply a better player in a more competative era.
The hate won’t stop now. It can’t stop. To quote Katt Williams, “You gotta be grateful. You need haters.” Kobe thanks all the haters out there. After devouring every so-called worthy opponent in his path, the haters are all he’s got left to keep him hungry.
People scrutinized the scowl, passing it off as a gimmick. You can question the method, but there is no arguing the result. KB24 didn’t do it alone, he knows the game and this is a team sport. So he did what all the greats do, he made his game suit the men he went to war with. By doing whatever it took – whether it be telling the whole world that a Blue Devil couldn’t guard him or by showing his teeth to the Master of Panic – Kobe inspired his teammates to play to his level. Thus, a champion was crowned and a sea of hatred was calmed.
No matter what the hype is in this day and age, there is one age old adage that will never change: To be the man, you gotta beat the man. Nobody is above this saying, not even that puppet in Cleveland.
In 2009, it is Kobe Bryant who stands alone as the apex predator of the game of basketball. While others gained the love of the media and the dollars of endorsements, Kobe laid low in the shadows then pounced when the prized kill was in sight. He flashed his fangs and his prey cowered.
The debate will continue but the facts can never be argued. It is now up to the rest of the world to devour their way to his perch. Rest assured that Kobe is waiting and hungry for more.