Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Nice To Be Important, But...

"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."
Coach Wooden 1910-2010

John Wooden had a lot of sayings. I'm sure the guys who played for him on those legendary UCLA Bruin teams that won a record ten straight championships probably heard a lot of them, but the above quote is my favorite and it's the one that brings to mind the subject for this post.

Of course when someone dies, you always hear nothing but tributes and good things said about them and you rarely hear the negatives. I could be wrong, but I haven't heard nor do I expect to hear one thing negative about John Wooden, who was a husband, father, basketball player, and coach. This brings to mind another would-be basketball icon-to-be who I can't seem to hear anything positive about...

Kobe Bryant, now 32 years old, owns four NBA Championship rings. He is a multiple all-star great defensive player, he has offensive skills that are out of this world, and he could be on his way to a fifth championship ring. He should be idolized in the way Michael Jordan was and still is to this day. Obviously, he is as talented as Jordan was at a similar time in his career, but people just don't like Kobe as a person. He's just not viewed as being... well, for want of a better word, "nice"

I thought it was just Philadelphians, who never forgave their native son for coming here in 2001 and not only thrashing the 76ers, but saying that he lived in Los Angeles (now) and that was his home. You don't come back here and say something like that! The very next year, the NBA All-Star game was held here and every time Kobe touched the ball, he was resoundly booed by the notoriously bad-behaving Philly fans. I actually felt embarrassed for him. I believe he won the NBA All-Star MVP award during that same tournament and he was still booed. I think the fans just recently stopped booing him whenever the Lakers come here... but for a few years, it was terrible.

If it was just Philly, people would say... "Well, you know how they are." But, Kobe gets no love in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, etc. I talk to people on Facebook from all over the country and except for Californians, almost everybody is unanimous in their dislike for Kobe. So, I ask myself, Why all this hatred? What has this man done so to make people dislike him this much? Well, we can go back a few years before he gained the national stage, when he was just known in Philadelphia as a basketball prodigy...

In the mid-1990's, Kobe Bryant could do no wrong. I remember me and a buddy watching him play in the Sonny Hill League and the Baker League. Anyone from Philadelphia knows that this is where the very elite of Philly's schoolboys and street basketball players play. Here he was at 16 years old and out playing some of the rookies from the Philadelphia 76ers who took part in the tournament. I said then, "He's the next Jordan!"

Then, Kobe graduates from high school, goes off to the Lakers, and it is then that I start hearing things about him that... well, weren't too cool. One of his Lower Merion High School teammates went to Los Angeles to visit him. Mind you, they had been very close and had won the state championship together. He said that the entire weekend he was out there, he only saw Kobe twice and he didn't have time for him. Further, he said that all he got from the deal was a couple of Lakers tickets. He wrote this in an article that was featured in one of the local sports columns here in Philadelphia. He was heartbroken and felt as though Kobe had changed.

After that, you might remember that there was a friend of Kobe's who was charged with a robbery. His alibi was that he was with Kobe that weekend, dee-jaying a party in West Philly. Understandibly, Kobe could not come back to Philadelphia to testify at his trial because it was the middle of the season... but, when he was asked to videotape his testimony, Kobe refused to do it for some reason and the guy was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. Those two incidents caused Kobe to lose a lot of street-cred in Philadelphia to the guys on the corner because he wasn't loyal to his friends. Have you ever wondered why Allen Iverson (who was not born or raised here) is treated more like a native son in Philly than Kobe (who was born and raised here)? There it is... A.I. is seen as more of a "man of the people" than Kobe.

It's not even about playing for a team that might thrash the 76ers. Rasheed Wallace is also a Philadelphia native, who plays for the "hated" Boston Celtics... yet, nobody boos "Sheed" when he comes home to Philly, regardless of whether the Celtics thrash us or we get lucky and beat them. Nobody boos Jameer Nelson of the Orlando Magic when he comes home to Philly or any of the other Philly natives who just happen to play for other teams... only Kobe.

There's something about Kobe and his personality (or lack of one)... people just aren't warm to him. Even his teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers had to "get used to him". They had to "eventually" warm to him and he to them. I say all of that to say this... he might just win another ring and he may just go to the Hall of Fame... but, he may just be the most unpopular player to achieve all of this accalades. Part of me grieves for him... I think the man is mostly misunderstood.

There is one one thing that he should have learned though... it's nice to be important, but more important to be nice.


Felicia Monique said...

Nicely written and very on point! There is something about "his personality" that seems to rub people the wrong way. I see it in his eyes and facial expressions--he seems aloof.

Nice J. Wooden quote, too. Bruins for life! =)

A.Smith said...

I think you raise some excellent points. I've long said there's something about Kobe that I just... didn't like.

I'm not big on judging someone based on third hand stories you hear, but in Kobe's case I make exception. Katt Williams said it best... (paraphrased) "people don't say the same thing about you for years unless it's true..."

And folks been talking bad about Kobe's tude for a decade + now. He'll regret this when he retires from bball and folks don't feel like they have to mess with him anymore.

You always get yours with regards to Hubris.

Rich Fitzgerald said...

I was in the barber's chair the other day and there were some younger dudes (late teens, early 20's) going on about being Laker fans and my barber and the guy next to him (40 yr olds) both agreed that they couldn't ride with the Lakers because in their eyes Kobe is a snitch based on how he rolled on Shaq.


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