By Dr. Ed Hastings,
Scholar in Residence, ISSCD
Whatever Kobe Bryant has done in the past – good or bad – I want to be able to look at him now and appreciate what he is doing for his team. He is in a tough situation: he has a new coach, new teammates, great expectations, hurt teammates. Things have not worked out for him. Whatever one might think of him, there is no doubt he is one of the great players the game has ever seen. Hard to believe he has been playing all these years (16) and he is thought of as old at 34 (he came into the League at 19).
He is not used to such losing and his team is doing a lot of that lately. Their record as of the time of this writing is 17-25. I have admired his willingness to do whatever he could to help the team. He has tried to challenge veterans by calling a team meeting. At this recent meeting, it is reported that Bryant spoke up, acknowledging he could be “hard to play with,” and asked teammate Dwight Howard if that bothered him. That takes a lot to do that.
I appreciate Kobe’s honesty and the vulnerability to ask if Howard found it difficult to play with him. I believe that it also took some humility for Kobe to ask that question to the superstar. Kobe has been with the team for 16 years; this is Howard’s first year. This is an example of Kobe’s attempt to do anything he can to help his team—even if it involves stepping down from his pedestal and opening himself up for criticism from one of his teammates, in front of the whole team.
Apparently, even this did not work: they lost the next game. He has played more than he should be at his age to help the team. He has played a lot more defense than he normally does, frequently playing the other team best guard.
And yet, they keep losing. I am not a Lakers’ fan by any stretch of the imagination. I have watched him from afar for most of his career; he grew up not too far from me. I played against his Dad, Joe Bryant, while he was at LaSalle University and coached his uncle, Chubby Cox, while he was at Villanova. Both Bryant and Cox were great competitors and struggled mightily to win games.
I can see his frustration. He is used to having things go his way and to be in control of things – whether it was successfully going from Lower Merion High School to the pros or winning an NBA championship with Shaq or winning Gold Medals as an Olympian. Things are not going his way now and he struggling. He is trying to do whatever he can to help his team, but none of it is really working in the way he wants it to.
It is interesting to watch a superstar like Kobe to see how he reacts to losses, frustration, struggle. I am not sure how long this will last but it should be interesting.
I am not asking for Kobe’s canonization here, but I am looking at him with curiosity, admiration – and possibly even rooting a bit for the Lakers. There – I said the thing I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say. But who else can I root for? The 76ers are in big trouble and the rest of the Philly teams are suffering big time.