In 2003-04, Kobe came to us in pieces. This went deeper than the game. Forget a fourth quarter meltdown. You can get that back. You can’t get back what Kobe lost. Hate. Hate. A strong enough word that even the strongest of us, Kobe Bryant, could feel it. You could see it in his face, see it in the way he spoke, see it in his actions. The haters were waiting for something to jump on, had enough of Showboat, this wealthy kid coming up, rocking the shades at 17, thinking he was the next Mike… nah, thinking he was better than Mike. In the NBA, where each plateau is met with more criticism, you can’t jump from high school to the gates of legend. That’s what Kobe tried to do. And the country despised him for it. From 2003-2008, he wasn’t winning, he had off-court troubles and he had more hate than we could possibly give LeBron.
“Jerry Buss let his future son-in-law hit the bricks for this smug brat.” – Boston.com, 2008
Snake. Interesting that Bryant came and turned around the moniker. What it once represented morphed into something entirely different. The Black Mamba. But Bryant wasn’t always the old bloodhound. He didn’t always earn respect. Look at yourself in the mirror, grinning back. You didn’t always love Kobe did you? You hated him. Said he sold Shaq out. Said he was arrogant. Said he was completely, utterly, 100 percent fake. The cockiest son-of-a-bitch that ever put on a jersey.
“I hate Kobe Bryant’s rotten and derivative soul.” – Slate.com, 2006
Unlike LeBron, who seems at once aloof and at once completely in tune with his perception, Bryant shrugs off the criticism. But that only makes it worse, like a fly that just… won’t… die. It makes the hate bubble, puddle at your feet until it gets large enough to swallow you up. LeBron is a rookie at this. Call me when he’s still being hated on in 2020.
You think basketball criticism is going to kill Kobe? You think Skip Bayless is going to take the edge off? You think Shaq rapping on stage is going to send #24 slipping out the backdoor? You think Phil Jax airing KB out to the world will get him to slow down? No. He faced it as he always has. He was built to destroy. So criticize his game. Say he shoots too much. Say he threw games. Say his teammates don’t like him. It only drove him harder (as we can see looking back). He relished it.
LeBron might think he has it tough now. The Golden Child since he was 15 years old, The Chosen One since even before he tatted it on his back, James doesn’t know doubt. He’s not a neighbor with hate. So when it hit him, he showed it. We could feel it. That’s why it seems so extreme right now. Kobe was used to it. He wiped his ass with it.
Kobe won a championship six years after his off-court troubles. He had his on-court redemption. LeBron James is still searching for his, but trust, when that does happen, we’ll rewrite his player card. He’ll go back to being the wonder of the NBA. Kobe? He may never fully rid his haters. He may never fully prove himself to those who hate him. They have their ammo.
Basketball is a game. But life is different. From ’03 to ’08, Kobe’s hate went much deeper than the hardwood. Fans hate LeBron for what he isn’t, for what he cannot do on a basketball court. Fans hated Kobe for who he was. And that knife dug a little deeper.
Who do you think had more haters? Kobe back in the day or LeBron right now?
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