Kobe Bryant and Trust Issues

Darius Soriano —  August 19, 2011

J.M. Poulard is a friend of the site and contributor to fellow TrueHoop Network site, Warrior’s World. Over the summer he’s been doing excellent work at FB&G and continues those efforts today . You can reach him by email here and find him on Twitter @ShyneIV.

Michael Jordan’s undeniable ability to score, defend and rip out his opponents heart make him the greatest basketball player to have ever lived. But not too far behind him are immortal legends such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who complete the group I like to refer to as The Three Wise Men. The trio has elevated the league to unprecedented heights and essentially made the NBA a viable sports entertainment option going forward.

The greatness displayed by these legends has seemingly rendered every basketball argument moot. Indeed, every great player that comes along today must face the prospect of having his game dissected and then eventually compared to these players who are now viewed as basketball heroes. No player has faced more scrutiny in this regard during his career than Kobe Bryant.

Detractors will point out that Kobe is a gifted scorer that often defies the imagination, but will also mention that Michael was clearly the superior shot creator and that he converted half of his shots all the while shutting down his man. The Black Mamba does a decent job of getting his teammates involved but no one did it quite like Magic Johnson; mind you he was a point guard. But then again, Bird was a forward and he always managed to create high percentage shots for his teammates.

One could say that Kobe and Drake share a trait that the Toronto rapper has illustrated in his hit song Trust Issues. For those unfamiliar with the song, give it a listen (some NSFW language).

In listening to the lyrics, it seems we’ve heard this story before in reference to Kobe right?

Not quite.

Bryant has often been criticized because of his penchant to play what Doc Rivers likes to call “hero ball”, in which he takes the ball in crunch time and ignores his teammates; but perhaps it is time we looked past some of his flaws. Not because they are unimportant, but rather because it would appear that it is impossible to mention the Lakers star without mentioning his weaknesses.

Think about this for a moment: Michael was often a poor teammate because he alienated members of his team, Magic was a subpar defender and Bird’s bad back made him a shell of his former self at times. Mind you, we often ignore these facts when talking about the trio, choosing instead to single them out for their strengths and accomplishments.

Perhaps fans in general have trouble reconciling just how talented Bryant is today with respect to other legends because he is an active player; or maybe our trust issues as fanatics are much more pronounced than Kobe Bryant’s.

For years, we have heard college coaches and even some media members refer to playing the right way. It seems that it has become the standard by which we measure all players in this day and age. Indeed, this basketball ideology relies on the notion that players who always make the right play will always give their team the best chance to win. Thus, shooting the ball when facing a double team or taking a low percentage shot early in the shot clock is not the proper course of action on the basketball court; instead the player should look for the open teammate.

This is part of what makes J.R. Smith so frustrating to watch on the court, he often looks like a player that is being controlled by a person playing NBA 2K and that wants him to get his numbers.

Kobe Bryant often gives us the exact same feeling that Smith gives us, except that Kobe is just flat out better than the Nuggets’ shooting guard at doing it. For all intents and purposes, people have decided that Kobe plays the wrong way, and that’s where their trust issues vis-à-vis Bryant stem from.

He seems to defy logic by playing a brand of basketball that we have consistently seen fail to produce championships. Indeed, history has taught us that players with itchy trigger fingers on the basketball court are doomed to fail. We saw this with the likes of Allen Iverson, the early years of Michael Jordan and even Carmelo Anthony to some extent (the comedy of it all of course is that Melo and AI played together).

Thus, whenever Kobe takes a tough contested jumper, the narrative will be that he could make the game so much easier for himself and his teammates; which consequently gives fuel to his detractors. Granted, they may be on to something but at some point, one must sit back and realize that the Lakers superstar has reached the mountaintop five times despite refusing to conform to history.

The inability to recognize Kobe Bryant’s value as a basketball player may have more to do with our own failure to accept his singular talent despite his flaws.
For all of his shortcomings, Kobe Bryant has managed to repeatedly deliver when the stakes were the highest, despite doing things the alleged wrong way.

History has shown that players who win rings are the ones that eventually accept their teammates as their equal and willingly defer to them when the situation calls for it in crunch time. And yet, we have Kobe Bryant who has managed to more often than not do the exact opposite and still come out on top.

Perhaps Kobe could share the ball a bit more, but doing things his way has not exactly been a failure when looking at the results. Can we at least acknowledge his greatness on that front?

Or do our trust issues with Kobe prevent us from doing so…

-J.M. Poulard

Darius Soriano

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40 responses to Kobe Bryant and Trust Issues

  1. Rusty Shackleford August 19, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Amen!

    It’s when players come along and threaten to break into the top 10 all-time greatest that fans make haste in putting that player’s flaws in the front of all arguments. Kobe Bryant’s career has been great to follow. Here’s to wishing him all the success in carving out the rest of his legacy in basketball history.

  2. kobe bryant is the best player in the world and kobe bryant is the best player in the nba and kobe bryant is the best player in the game and kobe bryant is the best campion of all time and kobe bryant got 5 rings and kobe bryant is a 5-time world campion

  3. Five time World Champion and an Olympic Gold Medal, that says it all in my book, great write-up.

    “If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.” – Anna Quindlen

  4. Sorry to bust your bubble dude but Jordan was not the best player of all time. What he is … is the most hyped player of all time. He came along when the NBA’s popularity soared and timing is everything. Couple that with the fact he did not play against any team with a real center to win any of those rings…again timing.

    I have said it here before and I will say it again Kareem is the best basketball player of all time. I have seen them all and the
    Captain in his prime vs. Jordan in his would not have even been close. Heck if you look at it objectively then you must say Kobe is on the same level as Jordan. Not sure if Dr. J would not have consistently stuffed it in Jordans face also. I’m sure if you interviewed some of these guys they would be diplomatic but if you could get them to go off record I’m sure they would tell you the real deal.

    Don’t forget Jordan made his mark lighting up the likes of Ehlo, Bryon Russell and Starks. That ain’t exactly murderers row buddy.

  5. Phil Jackson “Kobe’s as good as Michael”. Realistically thats true. There’s only so much talent you can pack into a human body, and once you maximize athleticism you aren’t going to have major differences between the best of the best.

    Lots of people like to point to stats to say Jordan was better. Things like FG%, rebounds, etc. But most of those stats are a result of the players coming up in different eras.

    When Kobe came into the league all the teams were busy shifting to a more perimeter oriented game. The 3pt shot is a huge part of the NBA offense now, and was not when Jordan played.

    As a result Kobe spends a lot more time on the perimeter than Jordan ever did. More 3pt shots means lower FG% and lower stats on most everything, including free throws (you don’t get fouled as much on the perimeter), rebounds (you aren’t as close to the basket) and possibly even assists (beyond the 3pt line, I think an argument can be made that you are more likely to be assisted to than to make an assist. This is due to less time spent in the post assisting to shooters, which is the primary assist opportunity that would have been shared by both players. Both of their systems emphasized assisting out of the post, as opposed to drive and kick styles which might favor a more perimeter oriented player).

    Think of Jordan’s logo. When he came into the league he was a slasher and later a post player, constantly around the basket. But as the league changed during the 90′s you started to see stories marveling at Jordan for developing a 3pt shot. Around the same time I was reading these stories is when Kobe came into the league.

    One of the “pro” arguments for Kobe (vs Jordan) when he first started in the league was that Kobe already had an excellent 3pt game, while Jordan was just then developing his.

    But the reason for this is that this is what modern NBA offenses required. Anybody who has watched Kobe posting up players or going hard to the rim knows what he is capable of in those situations. But modern rules, defenses and resulting offensive requirements put a premium on 3pt shooting.

    This is even more the case for Kobe, since he has spent so much time on teams with dominant post players. Jordan was always the dominant post player on his teams, so he got the statistical benefit of that particular historical situation.

    So I think its hard to disagree with Phil on this. Both of these guys were absolutely marvelous players who spent their careers in different eras. Both were probably as athletic as is humanly possible (as opposed to players in earlier eras who had the talent, but nowhere near the athleticism) and were probably equally talented. But the key differences are more a result of the historical era they were in, as opposed to actual differences.

    ~Thomas

  6. I’ve watched the NBA since around 67 and I agree with LordMo (5).
    Kareem is the best basketball player of all time, to this point.
    If I could choose any player in his prime to start an NBA team, it would be Kareem.

  7. When people say best basketball player, they usually don’t include bigs, because it probably doesn’t seem fair.

    As great as Jordan was, I don’t think he was as good as Kareem or Russell.

    What was he best at?

    He was far more exciting and marketed himself a lot better at a very opportune time where you could get exposure without being exposed.

  8. Can someone explain why Russell is always named with top 5 players of all time? He’s a champion and winner, but on paper to me he looks like a really good role player and leader, as if Derek Fisher combined with Ben Wallace. Superb rebounding in an era of a lot of shots, 11 championships during a time when there was 8 teams in the league. I just don’t understand how that can compare to the dominance on both sides of the ball of the other GOAT candidates.

    I’m not trying to make a point about Russell, I want to ask if anyone would care to explain this to someone who may be naive about the history of the game. Thanks.

  9. Of course, in their prime, neither Kobe nor Michael could match the dominance of the game that Wilt managed for much of his career – and against a tougher group of players at his position (however, to be fair, he also had some real cream puffs).

    Of course he didn’t manage as many championships (2) as either Kobe or Michael, but they can’t even approach Bill Russell (11) – so the conversation shouldn’t hinge on championships won. Too much depends on the era and the teammates – it is, after all, still a team game.

    You see, determining the best is so dependent on 1) the era you lived in, 2) how the rules were enforced, 3) your teammates, 4) and this one is never mentioned – the press and the society surrounding the game at the time (see the recent Casey Anthony trial as an example of this).

    Let’s simply stop this silly game of trying to determine the best and just enjoy these extreme talents. Great topic, however.

  10. #9 Don – I agree with you on Russell to a point he was a great player for his era. Definitely, not top 5 probably not even top 10 anymore.

    But Russell was the Joe Montana of Basketball for his time. Meaning he didn’t do one thing great (defensively he was great) but everything well. But he had the intangibles working in his favor. First, very cerebral player who knew that to beat someone more gifted than him he had to know their game inside and out. He studied Wilt and anyone else he knew he had to beat to get the rings. Second, did all the little things needed to win…sat picks gave up his offensive game to focus on defense, whatever it took and the coaches asked of him he did. Try that with some of today’s superstars…lol. Both them and their agents won’t be going for that!

    So, yes I agree not a top ten player on my list especially if you include Kobe, Duncan and some of the more modern players. I do believe in today’s game he would be more of a role player kind of like Serge Ibaka similar game and body types. I would say the truly greats would be great in any era not to sure Russell’s game would come across the same way nowadays as let’s say
    Pistol Pete who could have schooled anybody in any era.

  11. Russell was a great role player. Like a Derek Fisher who could play defense and rebound. That is all. He had no offensive game. The Jordan/Kobe argument is the biggest compliment to Kobe he could possibly have. Jordan was the best player of all time. He was more athletic, quicker, had bigger hands, was better defensively, bettervat getting amd finishing at the basket, and because of all those things could get hismshot off easier and thus create more opportunities for his teammates. Kobe was a better ball handler before his finger issues and a better outside shooter.

  12. Kobe did it on his terms.

    Who’s to say if he would have had better results doing it the “right” way.

    I’m guessing not.

    Regarding GOAT, I’d have to go with KAJ over Wilt. But, it’s a tough call.

  13. Disappointed in some of this talk diminishing Russell’s worth. His numbers, while not amazing offensively, were still pretty darned good. His defensive numbers and impact are off the charts. When you add in his mental approach to the game and how he could both motivate his teammates AND dispirit his opponents, his place as an all time great shouldn’t be questioned.

  14. I’m hard on Kobe not because I don’t think he’s a top 15 or even top 10 player of all time. I’m hard on him because I feel that at times if he were to change his mindset and not play hero ball he would have 7 rings not 5.He could be the best teammate and best scorer when he wants to be why not both? I’m a true kobe fan from top to bottom but at times he does make the game very difficult for himself and I think what people don’t get is that it has a negative impact on the team. I think from a talent standpoint he is equal and in some respects more talented then Jordan. But jordan had the consistency and he was going to more often then not make the right play and granted he had to learn that. I would love to see Kobe go one season where he averaged 20ppg 7asst 5 rbs. I think he could easily do this if he wanted to. It gives more touches to our bigs it collapses defenses it creates space on the floor. but when you have artest, kobe, pau, andrew and lo all trying to post up that doesn’t work. It would show people he can be Magic and bird or he can be michael. He’s had a unique opportunity in his career to be the best of both. I don’ tthink he’s fully taken advantage of that especially wiht the talent on this team. People don’t realize, sure kobe’s hurt but he didn’t go to practice at all. we talkin about practice. he didn’t go to practice he played some pretty bad roaming defense all year. and he still wanted to be the focal point of every posession. taking more shots then anyone in less time in the whole league. that’s not right and before you couldn’t argue with his formula because it led to finals appearances and the reason I like what ownership did (although I think they could have been more tactful with it) going in a new direction was because it was obvious kobe believed he could do anything he wanted and he wasn’t being held accountable. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts this year if at all.

  15. I agree with Darius. Russell was an amazing and complete offensive player. He was a gifted passer, and amazing defensive player, and an-all around clutch competitor. A more accurate comparison would Dennis Rodman with the passing ability of Bill Walton and he was left-handed. His ability to block shots which led to fast breaks allowed the Celtics to be THE dominant team of his era.

  16. Magic & Bird, those guys can play in all 5 positions, therefore they are my choice for GOAT. KAJ also.

    Regarding Kobe and MJ, Phil Jackson said, when asked who was the best: “Kobe had tougher shots”

    That says it all.

    Cheers.

  17. The coaching change with new Off. and Def systems will change Kobe`s game to some extent;should be interesting so see how he adapts,and if he and Brown can get on the same page.

  18. Mark my words: Kobe is gonna sign with Corinthians.

  19. I don’t think anyone doubts Russell’s greatness during his era, but he would be a role player in a game with todays players. Whereas can you imagine Shaq, LBJ, Kobe in days of Russell. True GOAT’s

  20. #20. So, you’re saying as the game has evolved, built on the shoulders of players like Russell, the current day players would succeed in the past. Okay. But you seem to not be considering that players from past generations, if brought up in modern times, learning modern skills wouldn’t adapt to today’s game and be just as great. That seems odd to me.

    Also, I wonder how certain players actually would fair in the days of bus rides to close cities and commercial flights. In the days of chuck taylor shoes and no concept of weight training. In the days of poor dieting, poor technology, and few medical advancements to treat injuries.

  21. Fotunately, there’s a level of respect among many modern players, that doesn’t always extend to the fans. Ask Kobe and company how they feel about Bill and the rest. Before twitter there was pen and paper. And I love twitter. I digress.

  22. Kobe was just lucky to play in a Laker Team. Put Dwayne, LBJ or KB in Kobe situation and the result will be the same.

  23. I think what would be interesting is if you put the question in a more tangible way.

    Let’s say we can have all the legends at their very prime.

    Now, the important aspect is how big is our league going to be. If the league is made up of just two teams, MJ could easily trump any of the best bigs because the gap between MJ and Kobe to me seems much larger than the gap between Wilt, Shaq, Kareem and Hakeem, for example, thus being the ‘first player taken = ie., best.’

    But if we dilute the league to 30 teams? Then it will definitely be one of the bigs I pick because the dropoff from the top tier to the next is much greater and the role a center plays on a team is much larger.

    Well, that’s what I think anyway. Maybe we should just have a legends fantasy draft to just see what happens.

  24. Wherever our biases lie, we are able to bring good arguments to the table. Doesn’t that point out just how specious the discussions about G.O.A.T. really are?

    Exactly what is the point? There is a new team champion every year and we just have to argue about some mythical player who would dominate all others over the last 60+ years? Just seems really stupid to me.

  25. I enjoyed watching John Wooden coach, both as an opponent (Oregon State in the early 60′s) and as a fan (from the middle 60′s on). This is a really touching article in the LA Times and worth a read. http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-simers-20110821,0,3483525.column?page=1&utm_medium=feed&track=rss&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20MostEmailed%20%28L.A.%20Times%20-%20Most%20E-mailed%20Stories%29&utm_source=feedburner

  26. The Greatest____Of All Time. The greatest what? Winner of all time Bill Russell. The greatest stats of all time. Wilt period hands down. The greatest scorer of all time Kareem. E.O.D. To objectively look at the history of the NBA there is no way to say someone, anyone was the greatest. That is the beauty of the game. Anyone who saw Bob Cousy play or Pistol Pete, will tell you they had the same passing ability and vision of Magic. How many of you saw Connie Hawkins play? Dude was sick. How many of you saw the Knick teams of the late 60′s early 70′s. An amazing team..team.. talk about “playing the game the right way” I never saw a “team” play it better. Each generation sees greatness within their scope. No one is really wrong. Is Kobe better than xyz. Who knows, who cares, does it really matter. I love and admire how Kobe plays the game. He is my favorite player of this era. My dad swore that Elgin Baylor, Oscar and the Logo were the best. As fans its fun to discuss this. But truthfully a case can be made for lots of players depending on your criteria. Every player has flaws. Im just thankful Ive seen so many players who over the years thrilled me. Go check out Rick Barry sometimes the guy was the truth. Hal Lanier, Chet Walker, Bob Petit, The Doctor. Speaking of which the God Father of the Modern day media hype that started the visualization of the game was Dr. J. MJ, Kobe, Dominique, all the highlight guys we youtube today can thank The Doctor.

  27. @24

    They used to say the same thing about Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. Put them on a team with Shaq and the results would have been the same. Of course, time showed us that neither of those guys can handle the big moment.
    T-Mack’s Rockets went furthest in the playoffs without him. And you can ask Orlando how Vince handled the big moment when they lost to the C’s in the 2010 playoffs.

    Kobe is sitting in the room. The rest of those guys are still outside knocking at the door. Wade did it once. He had a great shot this time around, but couldn’t pull it off. Unlike those other players you mentioned, Kobe has repeatedly gotten to the top of the mountain. There is no denying his greatness.

  28. no one is denying Kobe’s greatness. no one has gotten to the mountain top alone. the context was the G.O.A.T. unless i missed something

  29. There are some additional factors that play into the public perception of Kobe Bryant and the ‘trust issues’ that surround him.

    There is the fact that he has NOT always delivered by playing hero ball when the stakes were highest. Shortfalls ranging from his multiple airballs against the Jazz in the 1997 playoffs to his 6-24 shooting in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals have plagued his career.

    It is true that Magic, Michael, Larry, et. al. also had their playoff failures. But Kobe’s are more recent and more thoroughly chronicled, so they seem (correctly or not) more significant.

    Also, whatever bad games Magic, Michael, Larry, et. al. played games, I am unaware of any significant games where they were perceived to have simply given up. The perception (correct or not) is that Kobe did in 2006 against the Suns, 2008 against the Celtics, and in multiple regular season games after teammates or coaches complained about him shooting too much.

    Whatever problems with teammates the greats of the past had, those troubles tended to be downplayed. How much of that was due to different media coverage in their time, and how much was quantitatively different from Kobe’s troubles is difficult to say.

    But no other all-time great so openly feuded with his best teammate (Shaq). No other all-time great (except maybe Wilt) openly defied three different coaches. No other all-time great has a list of alienated teammates to rival Kobe’s (Shaq, Eddie Jones, Glen Rice, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Andrew Bynum and possibly others).

    Finally, Andrew Bynum’s uttering the phrase ‘trust issues’ didn’t name a specific target, but watch replays of the 2011 Dallas drubbing of the Lakers. Kobe wasn’t the sole Laker blowing defensive rotations, but he was one of the most consistently out-of-position defenders.

    When Kobe goes into ‘hero’ mode the results are often spectacular, sometimes disappointing. But there is always the overhanging wonder if Kobe is playing Superman because it’s the best chance to win, or because there is some other agenda at work.

  30. I can’t really do GOAT, I’ve just seen so much amazing ball over my lifetime. The post’s about Kobe though and he’s right up there IMO. Does things that just seem flat-out impossible. Has a will to win that borders on inhuman. Don’t know who will fill that gap when he’s gone.

  31. gundersonrogers August 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Most of these comments fail to include J.M.’s dilemma: How does the fact that Kobe doesn’t “play the game the right way” affect how we evaluate his talent?

    I’d like to see how Bill Russell would respond to this. He was like Magic in that he held as a top priority working with a TEAM.

  32. “Michael Jordan’s undeniable ability to score, defend and rip out his opponents heart make him the greatest basketball player to have ever lived.Michael Jordan’s undeniable ability to score, defend and rip out his opponents heart make him the greatest basketball player to have ever lived.”

    You explain your opinion and yet I fail to realize why people need to have a GOAT… Talked about this last week and I’m not addressing it again.

  33. I hate these greatest of all time debates. I agree with Darius about one of the most important variables: different eras. Who is to say Kobe would be as great if he was stuck in the 1960s, without the advantage of watching all the great game film of the past greats, which made Kobe into the amalgamation of a great today, which is already in addition to his great instinctual skill.

    Imagine Russell, Wilt, who were already tremendous World-class athletes with the benefit of modern weight lifting, video, etc. Don’t discount today’s current greats feeding off the previous generation. Kobe said so in that one-on-one with Jackie Mac in the Finals a few years ago. I think it’s an exercise in futility to try to level the playing fields of such disparate players and generations. Let them be…

  34. If Mr. Bean played for any team other than LA, 80% of Laker fans would hate him. #24 has kept to himself pretty much his whole career, except maybe in the last couple years he has tried to humanize himself to the world. From the outside looking in he seemed goofy, nerdy, moody, not someone you would want to hang out with for fear of boredom crashing on top of you. IMO GOAT is shaped not by how fans of a particular team feels about an individual player on their favorite team, but how that player is percieved by the masses. It trumps race, religion, and politics, illustrating what has never been seen before. Kobe’s game imitates too fresh of an image of MJ flying in the sky with his tongue out, a combination of will and determination to check his own mother in a game of 21. A sequel is never as good as the original, can be close, but still not the original.

  35. Kareem kept to himself for his entire career – that was his personality. What was the result? Well, for starters, the media – those ‘talking heads’ who are there to get clicks and nothing else – didn’t particularly like him. As a result we saw very few complementary articles about him until he was gone and no one could dispute his impact on the game – he still doesn’t get his proper due, IMO.

    The media absolutely hated Wilt. He was always page one news, but he was generally framed as an ‘uppity n*****’ or some variation of that thought – remember this was the 60′s. I still don’t see Wilt given the proper credit for how he changed the game.

    Whenever the media dislikes someone, they will never get their proper credit. Since we generally follow the media – very few leaders among fans – we seem to simply fall in line with this thinking.

    Well, Kobe is another in the line of players disliked by the media. Surprise, surprise he is a flashpoint with fans. Is there a lesson here – yes – but I doubt we will ever learn it.

  36. I am 67 years old man and love Basketball. KOBE BRYANT, in my sincere opinion is the best player ever. Magic, Jordan, Bird and West are good, but Kobe is better than good. So, stop comparing him to them. He stands alone on the hill looking down at them. Thanks

  37. We cant compare all greats,unless they played in the same era!period!

  38. Sherwyn @ 42 said what I was going to say. It’s ridiculous to say if such and such a player was in such a period, they would have had such-and-such an amount of success. If we think that Kobe would have dominated in the early ’60s with eight teams, imagine what Bill Russell could have done with the modern training techniques available to modern players. He’d make Dwight Howard look human.

    Kobe must be at least in the conversation with Jordan as the best 2, but I agree with posters who say that Kareem does not get enough credit. As Craig @ 39 said, if players were not hunky dory with the media, they did not get such generous coverage. I agree that he, along with Wilt and Russell, were the best bigs. It’s impossible to compare players who play different positions. It’s an interesting argument, but if one gets too heated about one as subjective as this, it becomes less helpful.