He is the most hated man in professional sports.
Boos rain down on him when he plays in away games. People trash him on talk radio shows, TV programs, newspapers, online message boards, etc.
He is Kobe Bryant, guard of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Over the past year and a half, he has become Public Enemy Number One.
People hate him for a variety of reasons, all of which are misconceptions and rumors.
First, is that Bryant is a rapist. The fact of the matter is that only Bryant and the accuser know what really transpired that night in Eagle, Colo. This was a ‘he said, she said’ case.
How can anyone really believe that Bryant raped the accuser when there was no evidence? Is it so hard to believe that maybe the accuser, who was mentally unstable to begin with (she had tried to commit suicide twice before the incident and had been prescribed antipsychotic drug treatment), wanted attention? Maybe it was just a coincidence that the prosecution dropped the criminal charges days before the trial was set to begin in favor of a civil suit. A civil suit would mean that the accuser might get monetary compensation. You draw your own conclusions.
Second is that Bryant drove Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal out of town. Jackson, the Laker coach from 1999 to 2004, finished his five-year contract this past June. He was not fired.
The Laker owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, and Jackson mutually agreed to part ways. The truth was that Buss did not want to fork over so much money for a new contract for Jackson when the team did not win the championship during the last two years he coached.
As for O’Neal, it was O’Neal himself who demanded to be traded. Similar to Jackson’s situation, Buss did not want to give O’Neal his contract extension, which he desperately wanted.
The team had failed to win the championship the last two years and Buss could not afford to give O’Neal what he demanded because his contract alone would eat up the team’s salary cap.
With O’Neal’s contract, the team would only have been able to sign players who would play for the veteran’s minimum or mid-level exception.
Typically these players are either not very skilled or extremely hard to come by since most players don’t want to take a pay cut. Buss did the only thing he could do; he traded O’Neal while he still had some value for some younger players. If he had waited too long, Buss would have been stuck with O’Neal’s contract crippling the team, even though he is an aging player who consistently came into training camp out of shape and injured and with absolutely no trade value.
Third is that Bryant is overrated, cocky, a ball hog on the court and antisocial off the court.
Despite everything that has happened, Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA and he still has yet to reach his peak.
This year, he ranks second in the NBA in points per game (27.8), second in triple-doubles (4.0), third in free throws per game (10.29), and eigth in efficiency ranking (24.17).
Bryant can do it all, from sky-high dunks to acrobatic layups. He is also one of the most reliable clutch players in the league, definitely someone you would want to take a last-second shot in a game.
Sure, Bryant is cocky on the court. But no more cocky than the next superstar. Most of the great players were cocky. One has to be to achieve great things. Bryant himself has said, ‘If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.’ This year, he is averaging 6.6 assists per game, which is more than adequate for a shooting guard. Besides, he is the best player on the team and he should take the most shots.
Sure, Bryant isn’t as loud and social as other players, but that’s just his personality. He is introverted and this year he has made more of an effort to hang out with his teammates.
He is spending more time with his teammates off the court than ever before. And contrary to popular belief, Bryant does do community work; he just chooses not to publicize it. Bryant was recently nominated for the NBA Community Assist Award for the month of January.
I’m not saying that Bryant is perfect; he is far from it. He has obviously made mistakes, as we all have at some point in our lives. I see a misunderstood young man who has been portrayed as the devil by the media. The media has rarely highlighted the many positive traits Bryant posses, instead only highlighting the negatives.
They know that the negatives will get more attention than the positives and this is what sells. As sports casters on ESPN have said, ‘Athletes are never remembered for what they did right, they are only remembered by what they did so wrong.’ We must also remember that the media does not know everything that goes on behind the scenes, despite what they may want you to believe.
At the end of the day, Bryant just wants to play basketball. Just remember that the next time you judge him.
Betty Hwang is a first-year undecided/undeclared major.