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?
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…