Championships can change hands in the span of a season. Coaches get the ax at the moment they stop producing results. Players can change their allegiance from one team to the next via trade or summer free agency. But one thing remains constant: many of NBA players do not want to play with Kobe Bryant.
It’s a constant that’s remained true since his arrival into the league. Shaq signed in free agency immediately after Bryant was drafted and may have been the biggest free agent signing that the Lakers have had in nearly twenty years, outside of Gary Payton and Karl Malone, both passed their primes. And in 2004, the enmity between Kobe and Shaq reached a point that Shaq bolted LA for South Beach and won another championship with new shooting guard running mate Dwayne Wade in 2006, while Bryant was getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. Bryant battled through the trenches for a few years to try to get a new running mate and when he finally did, it wasn’t via free agency; the Lakers traded for big man Pau Gasol, making them a championship contender once again.
But Gasol left LA as well last summer for Chicago, leaving Bryant alone to once again try and will his team to the playoffs. Dwight Howard spent a vacation in Hollywood in a disastrous season before hopping on the first thing smoking to Houston two years ago, openly citing that he did not want to play with ball dominant Kobe Bryant. Kobe changed his game play during the season with Dwight to be more of a facilitator that scorer, even rebounding more but that wasn’t enough to keep Dwight in LA, who wanted to be the man right now and not Bryant’s second (well look how that worked out for you in Houston, Dwight). In 2011, the Lakers successfully traded for Chris Paul in a possible attempt to build a super team and trade for Dwight a year before his arrival but satan David “Devil” Stern and the league blocked that trade, citing the collective bargaining agreement as the reason; they wanted to make the league more competitive by giving the smaller market teams a chance to compete, not just big market teams like the Lakers. It was faulty, seeing as how they didn’t stick to their guns later but the past can’t be changed.
Noticing a pattern here? All the superstars the Lakers have obtained in the past few seasons have been via trade. Free Agency has not been the LAkers friend and that continues even now with this season. After just the first day of free agency, LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly crossed the Lakers off his list of contenders, and many attribute it to Kobe’s part in the pitch. Kobe’s speech wasn’t long; in short he said he wanted LA (LaMarcus Aldridge) to take the same role Pau Gasol took with him. Apparently, this fell flat with Aldridge but this could be taken two ways:
1. be my running mate so that we can make another championship run.
2. Be my second so that we can make another championship run.
It all depends on tone and inflection if you take the statement at face value but what was actually said was Kobe had lost faith in the Lakers front office to build a championship contender until Mitch Kupchak traded for Pau and turned the franchise on its head, helping them reach three straight NBA Finals and winning two. Kobe also referenced the vetoed CP3 trade as another occasion where the Laker front office came through in the clutch and were only thwarted by outside forces. Apparently this message didn’t resonate well with Aldridge, who was unimpressed by the Lakers pitch, even the analytical part of the pitch. He didn’t seem to view the Lakers as a “win now” team, even with himself as an addition and the moves they’ve made the past two off-seasons. Apparently the allure of Tinseltown means as little these days as does playing with Kobe Bryant.
But why do many NBA players shy away from playing with Bryant? For sake of argument, I’ll make the never ending comparison to the current face of the NBA, LeBron James. Many players flock to James’ side, willingly taking a backseat role to him for the chance to win a championship. This is further emphasized in Kevin Love resigning long term with the Cavaliers for a chance to compete for a championship. But we’ve seen when it comes to championships, Bryant has been vastly more successful in winning than the self proclaimed “King”; Kobe is 5-2 in Finals appearances, LeBron is 2-4, just losing his most recent trip just last month to the Golden State Warriors. Bryant has the full endorsement and confidence of NBA Hall of Fame Legends, like the GOAT Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and even former nemesis Shaq, all of whom have stated on separate occasions that if they want to win, they’d pick Kobe Bryant over LeBron James. Bryant has proved himself capable of leading a rag tag bunch of players to the promised land and make them champions (where are the other players that competed on the championship Lakers roster besides Bryant and Gasol? I’ll wait). So why don’t players want to join with Bryant on the Lakers team to compete for a championship?
If I had to hazard a guess, I would attribute it to his alpha dog attitude, his inflexible will of iron, and his antisocial demeanor. Kobe himself has admitted to not knowing how to be a good friend and getting the best out of his teammates by grinding it out of them. Bryant being a big fan of Game of Thrones like myself should appreciate this comparison: He’s the Stannis Baratheon of the NBA. Stannis is inflexible, uncharming, righteous, and if anything, determined to see his goals through to the end, which currently happens to be sitting the Iron Throne as King, which he technically he is. He has no quit in him but is also very cold and stoic and only has one friend, Davos Seaworth, much like Kobe had Pau Gasol, who he thought of a brother. Stannis is a proven battle commander, with several military victories under his belt and he managed to rally a large army and assault King’s Landing in an attempt to take the throne but was rebuffed at the last minute. Kobe was a part of five championship rosters, two of which he won himself but as of now is a part of the bottom of the barrel Lakers, looking for that one or two pieces that can revitalize their campaign. Both Kobe and Stannis have proven themselves capable, yet no one wants to ally with the stoic commanders.
Sometimes, in the route to our dreams, an uncompromising, iron determination is the best path to take, seeing our road through to the bitter end. But sometimes, it takes compromise, flexibility, bending a little and allowing some wiggle room when the old way doesn’t pan out how we’d like. Bryant has tried bending and compromising once and said it didn’t provide the same results as being tough on his teammates. Perhaps we’ll see a whether plowing through head first into the fray will yield another championship, or whether trying to compromise one more time may win over another running mate to win a championship. The Baratheon words are “Ours is the Fury”
Stannis Kobe will show them “fury burns.”