The Faces Of Kobe Bryant

Some love Kobe Bryant and some hate him. He has accomplished things on the court few have done, and he has done things off the court few want to. He’s made us laugh, smile, scream in anger and shout in aw. His on the court antics are often described as brilliant, but his character is often described as two-faced. We have seen him grow up before our eyes, and have seen both his faces, but perhaps as we see him lead his team back to prominence, we are seeing a third face of Kobe Bryant.Kobe came up as the NBA’s golden boy. He had a great smile and endorsed just about everything. Kobe dazzled in the all-star game as the youngest all-star ever, and he won the dunk contest. Bryant was Shaq’s little buddy, helping him win three championships. He even helped those kids on the playground win their game in the Mcdonalds commercial; we were ‘lovin it.’In one night everything changed. In the summer of 2003 Kobe was charged with rape. Before even reaching trial, Kobe had lost all his endorsements and many fans. He denied knowing the accuser, and then admitted to sleeping with her shortly after. Bryant bought his wife her own championship ring and publicly apologized to her and his fans. After what some considered dirty tactics by his attorneys, the case was dropped and Kobe settled out of court. Bryant was exonerated, but the public had seen his second face.Suddenly what seemed like Shaq’s little buddy was starting to look more like his jealous little brother. Kobe used his influence to chase future hall of famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton out of town. He complained some more until NBA legends Shaquille O’neal and Phil Jackson were booted out too. It was finally his team, and it allowed us to see the selfish face of Kobe Bryant. Not just the kind of selfish it takes to put up 35 points per game or score 81 in one night, but the kind of selfish that took hostage one of the greatest franchises in sports.Kobe’s dream of being like Jordan was slipping away. He changed everything, perhaps to change our opinion of him. He switched his number from 8 to 24, perhaps to try and one up his airness. He began to lead the league in technical fouls, and started drawing suspensions when he would “accidentally,” hit people in the face when his shot was contested. He claimed it was a natural hitch but I don’t think even his biggest critics would say his shot that ugly.It all came to a breaking point this summer when Kobe demanded a trade. He was tired of L.A and let everybody know it. He was videotaped in a parking lot swearing about the Lakers front office, and a month later he went on national television and expressed the same sentiments, albeit a bit more politely. It seemed like the Kobe Bryant era in L.A was over.The NBA season started however and Kobe was still with his team, and they were winning. Something changed, Kobe shut up and played basketball, and it was working. Kobe started shooting less and passing more, he was finally realizing that his best talent was not his ability to score but his ability to make those around him better. He led his team to the first seed in the Western Conference and is now a favorite for the MVP and for his team to win an NBA championship. What we’re seeing now is a more patient, less arrogant Kobe, his third face.Kobe Bryant now understands he will never win back all those fans he once lost. But the way he will win back the true NBA fans now is by respecting the game. Kobe understands now it’s not his league, and it never will be. Luckily for Kobe, legacies in this game are built on the whole. We don’t remember Jordan’s gambling problem, Barkley’s weight problem, or Bill Walton’s inability to stay healthy. We remember what they accomplished, how they made us feel, and how they rose to the occasion. Kobe still has the opportunity to do just that.

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