First of all, I'm a longtime lurker and first time poster. I've considered posting many times before, but last night's somber events pushed me over the edge.
I've been a Lakers fan since I was a little kid in the early 90s, back in the post-Magic and pre-Shaq/Kobe era. However, my fandom didn't really take off until I was a little but older and better able to understand the game, which started around the year 1996 when the Lakers signed Shaq and drafted Kobe Bean Bryant. I suppose that despite the Lakers being my hometown team, I could be considered a "bandwagon" fan by some, but what kid isn't? Anyway, the years have passed and I have closely followed both the Lakers and their synonymous superstar Kobe Bryant.
In these last 17 years, I have heard just about every criticism imaginable of Kobe Bryant, especially after leaving Southern California to go to college in the territory of a hostile fan base. However, as is likely the experience of most Lakers fans and Kobe fans, the one that kept coming up over and over throughout the years was selfishness. The criticism seemed to reach a fever pitch in the Post-Shaq and Pre-Pau times, subsided a bit during the recent championship run, and has now been growing again. Part of this is the development of advanced statistics, and another is the honest to goodness truth. Like most Lakers fans, there are times when I watch in anticipation for Kobe to shoot and there are other times when I cringe. He makes no apologies about it and doesn't distance himself from it. That's just who he is.
With that being said, I feel that sometimes Kobe has gotten the short end of the stick, both from opposing fans in conversations and certain well known pundits and bloggers. I believe that despite Kobe's "selfishness" he is the ultimate team player in that he wants the team to WIN despite everything. I see no better example of this than his much heralded season this year. Whether it is holding the company line during media interviews (for example, not a single public criticism of Mike Brown), morphing to facilitator mode, putting on his coaching hat during practices and timeouts, or playing just about EVERY SINGLE MINUTE for the last two weeks to make sure his team makes it to the Playoffs where everybody is 0-0 and he honestly felt his team had just as good of a chance as anybody of winning it all. It is poetic and ironic that at the peak of his "unselfishness," the devastating Achilles injury occurred. A man who has been defined by selfishness and greed his entire career by many finally went down for good while displaying ultimate unselfishness by putting his team's needs above his own.
I don't believe this is the end for Kobe. I can't. Not only can I hardly imagine the Lakers without him, but I can't imagine him without the Lakers. He doesn't want his career to end with him hobbling off the court. Kobe will be back to defy the odds once more. Just please don't call him selfish.