Twenty years from now, when youâ€™re watching the Kobe Bryant biography on ESPN Classic3, December of 2004 will be painted as the nadir of his career. Heâ€™s the villain â€” not for the alleged sexual assault (he never received more love from the L.A. fans then when having to make court appearances during the day then flying home for a night game) â€” but for being the guy still standing in Laker gear after the breakup of a championship squad.
This season itâ€™s been fashionable for media close to the team and far away to pile on Kobe. His ego was too big (but Shaqâ€™s and Philâ€™s werenâ€™t). His contract demands were over the top (but Shaqâ€™s and Philâ€™s werenâ€™t). He drove Karl Malone away (Malone was looking for an out, people). Then, using the jersey sales issue as proof, the media could prove that everyone had turned on Kobe.
But mark my words, the story of Kobe in the general media is going to follow the â€œBehind the Musicâ€ story arc. Kobe will be back on top by the end of the hour. There may or may not be another championship, but he will again be loved by the fans and there will be talk about his status as one of the gameâ€™s greats, with an outpouring of love and stories about how he â€œturned his life and image around.â€ Retro Kobe jerseys will be all the rage.
Thereâ€™s nothing new here, this follows a classic American pattern. We build up a star, we tear him or her down, and then, if they keep doing what we want them to do, we welcome them back with open arms. Trust me, three years from now, if Kobe doesnâ€™t shoot himself in the foot, he will again be loved and popular. We are a nation that forgives.
Former Los Angeles Daily News writer Mark Stein started that process this week on ESPN.com, and while others may not be writing it, they are thinking it.
To be honest, everything that has happened with Kobe has changed and tarnished my opinion of him somewhat, and I know he’s made mistakes and brought some of this on himself. But itâ€™s also given me a more fleshed-out view of the man. Heâ€™s human and made mistakes, I wonder if heâ€™s smart enough to have learned from them. I wonder if he observed and absorbed enough during the three championship years â€” and the years that fell short â€” to see what it takes to lead a team there again. I think I have a better understanding of his ego and competitiveness, and how he wouldnâ€™t be where he is without them. I wonder if he does. I wonder how much he has grown, and if he will be a better leader and person for all of it.
Itâ€™s no longer a perfectly flattering picture of Kobe I carry around in my head, but a realistic one. And itâ€™s not a bad one.