In 1996, Kevin Garnett suggested that recent Lower Merion High School graduate, Kobe Bryant, should attend college instead of making the leap to the NBA. After signing a maximum deal in 2004, pundits openly questioned Dr. Buss’s decision to hand Bryant the keys to the organization. Reasonable doubts concerning Kobe Bryant still dominate the basketball headlines: will his recent Achilles injury allow him to return to some semblance of his former self? Should the Lakers be looking to a 36-year-old to still be the focal point of the offense?
No one can say they know the answers for sure- not even Bryant, himself.
But Bryant is motivated by doubt, reasonable or not. Former Brooklyn Nets owner, Shawn Carter (more famously known as Jay-Z) wrote in his book, Decoded, that the embrace between Shaq & Kobe on the court after winning their first title together inspired a line in a song of his titled “Breath Easy,” from the album The Blueprint. Coincidentally, Jay-Z happens to be Bryant’s favorite rapper.
It was doubt that led Phil Jackson to bypass Jerry West and ask Dr. Buss to trade Bryant earlier that season for Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. Although it set the tone for what would be a tumultuous player/coach relationship, Phil Jackson’s doubt motivated Bryant to excel within Winter’s restrictive Triangle Offense, and drove him to his first NBA All-Defensive Team honor.
“He’s a very, very competitive kid,” said Shaquille O’Neal during an interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “He loves the naysayers. He loves proving people wrong.”
After the Lakers came up short in the first trip back to the NBA Finals in the Post-Shaq Era, O’Neal jeered Bryant in a rap song, claiming amongst other things that, “Kobe can’t win without me.” Two titles later, Bryant joked about how he calls O’Neal “Four,” referring to the fact that O’Neal is one short of Bryant’s five Championship rings.
Seventeen years removed from his high school graduation and the release of his favorite Jay-Z album, Kobe Bryant has all but silenced his critics. The upcoming 2013-2014 season will present a golden opportunity to leave no doubt that he is the greatest among his contemporaries.