kobe bryant jersey

The Los Angeles Lakers get what they want. Period. Numerous franchises have flared up throughout NBA history in a prestigious Cinderella-like supernova only to, just as quickly, burn out. Since moving to the City of Angels from Minnesota, the Lakers have certainly been one of the association’s few spoiled evil stepsisters. As an Orlando Magic Fan, I abhor the Los Angeles Lakers above all other franchises for reasons that are obvious to any medial NBA fan (the Shaq embezzlement of ’96, dismantling us in the 2009 finals, and repeating history in 2013 when they yanked Dwight Howard away from the City Beautiful). Though, as Chicago-based rap artist Chance the Rapper so properly spits in his song “Juice”, “Everybody in the World f*&%#g hates the Lakers.” And they do. If you’re a fan of the NBA who does not live in LA, save the bandwagon fans, of whom there are many, you do hate the Lakers, because they have made being better than your team a routine. (Fans of the Boston Celtics may be the only exception here, but not by much). For the Lakers, there is no prize too obnoxious to obtain, no goal too far out of reach to make contact with.

A brief history of the Los Angeles Lakers getting what they want when they want it: In 1975 they snatched Kareem Abdul Jabar from the Milwaukee Bucks. Kareem had led the Bucks to the finals the previous season and won a championship with them just four years earlier. In 1979, after a season that saw the Lakers finish as the runner-up in the Pacific division and place fifth in the Western conference, they used one of the three draft picks that they’d received from the then New Orléans Jazz to nab the Magic Johnson with the number one pick. In 1996, they struck gold. Not only did they magically perform a disappearing act in Orlando, convincing one of the best centers in league history, Shaquille O’Neal, to bolt from a young, promising Magic roster, they committed grand theft, robbing the Charlotte Hornets of their new rookie Kobe Bryant. They got the best player of the 1996 draft, and they didn’t even have a draft pick! And who could forget about the most lopsided trade in the history of the NBA, when the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2008 trade deadline for chump change*. That trade alone sent them back to the finals that year after half a season of mediocrity.

p1_shaq_kobeSince acquiring Kareem in ’75, the Lakers have won ten world titles, more than any other team in the league in the last 40 years. Michael Jordan’s Chicago squad, who fired out six quickies in the 90’s, are the closest challengers. More recently, though, to the enchantment of Chance’s above referenced “everyone”, the Lakers have really gone downhill. They acquired Dwight Howard, only to run him out-of-town after one season; they missed the playoffs last season for the first time in nine years; and above all, their long-standing commander and chief, Kobe Bryant, is now 36 years old (that’s 68 in NBA years). While his body has not fully wasted away… yet, he’s certainly not the young buck he once was. A torn left achilles kept him out of the playoffs, and a broken bone in his left knee has greatly restricted his play the past two seasons. The end of the Kobe reign is gently knocking at the door. While there is no doubt that within five or so years the Lakers will have recruited another superstar(s) to resurrect them from the pains of a full-fledged rebuild, Laker-haters worldwide will relish in their misery while they moan and groan like a toddler who has just been placed in an unfamiliar timeout by his highfalutin Beverly Hills mother. If I sound a little bitter, well, it’s because I am. Perhaps the most unexpected angle of the Lakers’ slow, glory-less fizzle into below averageness is how the basketball world has traded in its hoop-saturated Kobe worship for buckets of dark animosity to pour onto the aging star.

Now granted, when any team struggles, its superstar, or whomever lands closest to that role, receives the bulk of the bludgeoning. But Kobe is a legend. He was the association’s Jordan in between Michael’s departure and LeBron’s arrival (some would still argue the Lebron’s arrival part). The sports world has long known Kobe was blunt, capable of upsetting anyone who was within the same area code as him. Not too long ago when asked how to best describe the Los Angeles juggernaut, teammate Steve Nash represented this quite matter-of-factly with some colorful language. But none of this has ever stopped the theologians of ball from loving Kobe unconditionally. For example, in 2003 Kobe was arrested for allegations stating that he had sexually abused a concierge at a Colorado hotel. Bryant admitted to having an adulterous relationship with the young woman and opted to settle the case outside of the court of law. In his publicly issued apology he kind of (?) denied the allegations:

First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo. [Wikipedia]

He went on to say that he never questioned the young lady’s motives, that they simply had different views of the same event. This was certainly a statement of guilt recognition. It even seemed to come from a broken and contrite heart, not typical of Bryant, but it left many unconvinced of his innocence. Even so, months later Kobe had every one of his sponsors back on board as he continued to progress in what was already a very successful NBA career filled with praise and accolades. There’s something oddly charming about the ‘grace’ that the NBA, the media, the fans, his teammates offered Kobe, that is, until you realize it is false, wholly contingent on Kobe’s ability to pay them back through the exploitation of his talent. Again, this was not grace at all.

This week at ESPN, shots were fired. After recognizing Kobe as the 40th best player in the league, a deliberate but legitimate ranking delivered to a player who has consistently been in the top 10, journalist Henry Abbot published an knock-out article simply entitled “Kobe”. In the article, Abbot pastes dozens of quotes from former teammates, NBA agents, NBA front office executives, and journalists that are all about letting the world know just how awful Kobe Bryant really is.

“The Problem is, he’s just not as good as he thinks he is,” says one source in the Lakers’ inner circle

“Kobe has cost the Lakers dearly in human capital. Kobe has hurt a lot of people. In some cases jeopardized careers,” says a front office executive from a rival team…

“I’ve had a lot of clients in the last five years, good players, who didn’t want to play with Kobe,” says an agent who has had numerous NBA stars.

While all of Abbot’s quotes seem to conveniently turn a blind eye towards the six world titles and 15 playoff berths in 17 years that Bryant has given the franchise, I do not doubt that these charges are correct. That, however, does not lessen the shock value. The Lakers superstar has been a worldwide luminary icon in the NBA for the better part of the past two decades, and now he is but a few injuries and a few more air balls away from being the washed-up has-been, who wont stop hogging the spotlight from Hollywood’s next savior. The grace offered by sports wold has a shelf life, and it spans about as as long as personal athletic ability does.

cannanite

In Matthew 15 a Canaanite Woman approaches Jesus and begs that he heals her daughter who she claims is demon-possessed. “Lord, Son of David, have Mercy on me!” she cries. We read that Jesus doesn’t even answer her. His disciples tell him to send this annoying lady away, “she keeps crying out after us,” they complain. Then, He answers her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she continues, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” I like to imagine Jesus cracking open a big cheeky grin as he tells her, “Woman, you have great faith, your request is granted.”

We may earn, from time to time, a temporary ‘grace’ from others; we may be gifted a layaway forgiveness from society, but as Kobe’s journey attests, it is a salvation that is trampled by the public as soon as our ability to uphold our emancipation has run out of steam. These are the moments when we find ourselves in the company of the Canannite woman, surprised by the announcement that while we are but dogs, searching for crumbs, we have been thrown the juiciest steak we’ve ever bitten into. Similar to how the basketball world continued to love Kobe in spite of his faults at the height of his career, the good news of God’s Grace is that we are loved unconditionally, in spite of who we are. And yet, His love does not fade when our darkness expands. It only shines brighter.