KOBE BRYANT / The Super Star Tinsel Town always deserved.

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Since Kobe Bryant announced his retirement early in the 2015-2016 season, sportswriters have been reflecting on his courier to determine where he fits in the leagues’ pantheon of all-time greats.

Where does Kobe fit in Los Angeles's cultural history? For Angelenos, he may be the “first among equals”.

By the time the Kobe & Shaq era of the Lakers was fully realized, not only were A-list celebrities attending as many games as possible, but being seen at a Lakers game became a way for B, C, and D list celebrities to prove that they had made it.

During his playing years, no other Los Angeles celebrity encapsulated and exported the Los Angeles/Hollywood story and self-image like Kobe. Able to play the villain and the hero.

After he entered the NBA, Kobe quickly became a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers Franchise and a marketing gold mine for corporations.

However, as Kobe’s Lakers won more games and more championships, the more his locker-room personality and off-court life became a part of the story. And therefore, the more polarizing a figure he became. Bryant was the subject of sports stories and opinion pieces that had high contrast and very little nuance that often went well beyond sports. How do we approach our professions, parenting, fidelity, authority, co-workers, and public image?

As the vitriol and idolatry of Kobe grew locally and abroad, so did the number of people who prioritized seeing the Lakers over any other NBA team visiting their town. For Angelenos’, Kobe was our conquering hero, ripping the hearts out of any other city that dared to believe that they could be the center of the basketball universe. For fans of other teams, he was the bratty, narcissistic, ball-hog, and Michael Jordan-wannabe. It was easy and necessary for the fans of other teams to see him in that regard. Making him the villain made him easier to boo. It made his accomplishments less impactful in the eyes of his detractors. For them, it made his short-comings and failures more indicative of his character and talent.

To Kobe’s credit, he fully embraced his role as their villain. After basketball co-superstar Lebron James’s was excoriated by fans and many others in the press for his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat, Kobe counseled him to “wear the black hat”. Be the bad guy! Let your fans follow you down the dark path.

Indeed, Kobe was motivated by the hate, but so were the haters. Kobe believed in the highly emotional and heated adversarial aspect of the game. The bifurcated finality of winning and losing that ultimately produced winners and losers. Opposing fans cheered and pushed their teams to stop him. To put him in his place. To end his story.

Unlike the Superman figure Michael Jordan was, where the outcome of every contest seemed to be predestined, Kobe gave us a story more like Batman’s. A story full of hubris and humiliation. He could soar but, was unable to fly. Capable of great deeds but, incapable of reaching the highest peak. Kobe wanted us to believe that he was superhuman but, the losses and injuries that all humans suffer were too obvious to avoid seeing in him.

That’s the character. Our leading man. Angelenos love the character who takes the dark path but finds the light in the end. The one who is crippled but learns to walk with new legs. The person who can at times fly high but, must learn to live on earth.

Mistakes included, Kobe Bryant was our kind of iconoclast. Challenging basketball and social orthodoxies even as they were rewritten around him. He could have played up-tempo basketball like Steve Nash. He could have stuck with the fundamentals like Tim Duncan. Or, he could have succumbed to the pressure to become the pass first, make your teammates better superstar like Lebron James. But, by playing isolation hero-ball, Kobe Bryant became a hero. By being unafraid of the big moment, we got big moments.

In his retirement game at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, coaches, players, fans, and babies cried. Begging Kobe to take as many shots as his hobbled body could. They asked him to fight through the pain coming from his injured shoulder, his blown out achilleas, the surgically repaired knee, and the disfigured fingers. In that final game, Kobe took 50 shots. The number of points scored doesn’t matter. We wanted him to go out the way he came in. Firing! Like an Angeleno, defiant and undeterred in the face of naysayers. Knowing that the show must go on. Believing that all things are possible. Committed to the idea that inexplicable and magical moments can occur on stage. Giving us one final curtain call to take around the world and tell anyone who doubts; I told you so. LA!

He scored 60 points!!!


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