Dear Kobe Bryant,
I will begin by saying I am a fan. A huge fan. It is safe to say that you are my favorite non-Houston Rockets player in the NBA (at least now that Robert Horry is on involuntary retirement). I mean, come on, you share a middle name with Kurt Cobain’s kid… how awesome is that?
I’ve been a supporter of yours since you were drafted out of Lower Merion in 1996. I’ve defended you through all of your trials and tribulations: the air-balls in Utah, the feuding with Shaq, the Colorado incident, the Rudy T experiment, and even the disappointment of last year’s NBA Finals. I’ve followed you through all of it. When people have called you "selfish" I countered by saying you just want to win more than the other guys. When they called you "aloof" I tried to explain that you were an 18 year old in an older man’s world. When you were being attacked by Shaquille O’Neal, I simply chalked that up to jealousy. I thought I understood.
That brings me to today’s point though – what happened to you?
I watched last night’s game and I cringed. First, I cringed because you were tearing up my team on the court by putting the ball in the basket in ways that LeBron James could never dream of. The Rockets played great defense and it did not even slow you down. I was awestruck at how your could do whatever you wanted on the court. But then I cringed because your dark side showed up again. I do not know how you can explain your recent predilection for throwing elbows and taking cheap shots.
I realize that Ron Artest and Shane Battier frustrate you. They play hard, physical basketball. I’m sure that you want to retaliate. I also know that basketball is a contact sport, regardless of what our mothers told us when we started playing as kids at the YMCA. Boxing out, setting hard picks, diving for loose balls… this is all part of the game. It does not give you carte blanche to start tossing errant elbows above an opponent’s shoulders.
Now, if your rationale was that it’s just Ron Artest and he had it coming to him, whatever. But how does that explain you tackling Shane Battier on Monday night and then trying to throw a concealed elbow to his rib cage? Even worse – when Shane got up, you tried to initiate a trash-talking battle with him. Why? Were you trying to rattle Shane? Rile him up? We both know that’s not going to work. Shane is going to just walk away. Apparently, he’s just a better person than you.
The worst part is that these two incidents are not isolated. They are just two more in a long line of recent "cheap shot by Kobe Bryant" incidents. Or do I need to bring Mike Bibby, Raja Bell and a host of others in to testify to this point?
Kobe, you are better than this.
You are the best basketball player in the NBA. You are the poster boy for the league. There is no need to resort to cheap shots and dirty play. Rise above it. I know it’s lonely at the top, but you do yourself a disservice by giving everyone the ammunition to call you a "dirty player." Then again, maybe you’ve always been this way. Maybe I’ve just been blinded by your talent and charisma all these years. This makes me sad. Because I do not see any need for you to resort to this.
I know it’s never been easy for you. For all your talent, you’ve had critics from the start. Even your own teammates were jealous. Shaquille O’Neal was a veteran who acted like a 14 year old (and still does). Meanwhile, you were a 17 year old who had the maturity of a 30 year old veteran. Yet no one gave you credit for that. When you won three championships in a row, most of the accolades went to Shaq. He would show up to camp fat and out of shape. You would show up in better shape than anyone. After the trade to Miami, he even compared you to Sonny Corleone. A total backhanded cheap shot, I know. But, hey, at least you aren’t Penny Hardaway! Have some perspective.
I guess my real problem is that the kid that looked like he was having so much fun playing basketball has become a 30 year old man who always acts like the world conspires against him. When faced with adversity, you used to be able to laugh it off and just play. Now, you whine and cry. You cuss out your opponents with regularity. You trash-talk lesser players. You throw elbows with a message behind them. It’s simply not necessary. It makes me question why I’ve been a fan all these years. Have I been wrong in supporting you all this time?
In the end, there is one simple message I’m trying to get across to you, Kobe:
Stop being a whiny, petulant brat and just play basketball.
Please heed my advice. For my fandom is at stake here.