Almost exactly five weeks after freeing the ghost of John Havlicek from the chains of infamy by breaking the All-Time Missed Shots record, Kobe Bryant took over the #3 spot from Michael Jordan in All-Time Total Points Scored. There is no more perfect macrocosm for who Kobe is and how, when his career is all over, we should remember him.
For purposes of full disclosure, I once trudged a half mile in 3ft of snow in Converse All-Stars because it was waffle day at my campuses d-hall and being prepared wasn’t my thing back then. So farbeit from me to question a mans motivation, but Kobe’s obsession with Michael Jordan is strange. He writes in his article for the Players’ Tribune that Jordan is his “muse.” That I get. I mean we all wanted to be like Mike. We all counted down from 5 while attempting a tongue-out fadeaway jumper on the playground, the driveway, or in an office chair aiming for a trash can. But Kobe’s obsession isn’t that. His goes beyond and well into the creepy.
Those mashup Kobe/MJ videos aren’t coincidence, they’re strange. Kobe turned himself into a caricature of Michael Jordan if Rembrandt painted caricatures. Sure if you have the talent to emulate the moves of the best basketball player you’ve ever seen, why the hell not. But the mannerisms also? The tongue wagging, shoulder shrugging, and opposing bench glaring? That’s where it morphs into evidence of a man so obsessed with being somebody else that he sacrificed becoming himself.
Yet here we are, with side-by-side graphics and comparison charts. It’s like playing a game of charades where the person is still performing the imitation even though the correct answer was guessed 18 years ago. But the always full throttle ESPN hype machine was prepared for him passing Jordan with clips of a sprightly-back-to-practice-for-the-first-time-in-19-days Kobe Bryant scoffing at and cursing out teammates. One such rant revealed Kobe lamenting “Practice gets real uncomfortable when I’m in this m—–f—–” but didn’t specify if that’s because he’s an ass or if he was talking to his knees.
But my favorite interaction was Bryant complaining to Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak:
“I’m supposed to practice and get better, Mitch. I’m supposed to practice and get better. These m—–f—— ain’t doing s— for me.”
Voicing his displeasure with the team Kupchak scraped together while hogging a league high 34% of the franchise’s salary is SO Kobe. He’s the highest paid player in the NBA this year, $89,000 above the least inconspicuous but most impeccably dressed money theif Amare Stoudemire. Obviously Kobe is no Stoudemire, it’s not that bad, but we’ve been led to believe Kobe wants rings. Running out of time and good knees and in a loaded West, he’s decided to eschew a competitive team to chase statistical glory and personal achievements. If you live to be someone else you’ll always fall short.
Kobe had the chance to blow by Michael Jordan in terms of NBA Championships but thought it best to not share the spotlight lest his side by side comparison suffer an asterisk. Shaq in his prime was a gift. A gift he didn’t deserve but a gift nonetheless. And ultimately a gift he couldn’t coexist with.This is where his caricature of Jordan goes awry. Jordan was definitely a competitive ass who’d flip a chair in protest to a loss in paper football. But he knew he needed Pippen and he knew, at some point, he’d need every one of his teammates. He was always the best player on the court but learned that alone he’d never be good enough in enough moments to win a seven game series against teams like the Pistons, Lakers, Suns, Blazers, SuperSonics, or Jazz (who were built specifically to stop him).
Kobe refuses to have a Pippen – even a Pippen that’s a 7’1″ 325lb ‘Advance To Go’ card. There’s no denying that Kobe is an uncanny talent. He’s made more ridiculous shots in his lifetime than most average NBA players have made free throws. But as good as he is, we should still be forced to remember him as so much more. When you’re that talented and accomplished the argument shifts from statistics to something more ambiguous. The way in which we judge these athletes transforms into a theoretical scale of how long – if ever – until we see another you.
*Jim Ross voice*
“HO-MAGAWD, THAT’S KEVIN DURANT’S MUSIC.”