Any time Kobe Bryant's name is brought up, a conversation brews that tends to lack in things like, you know, logic. To say Kobe is polarizing is to say water is wet, or that Michael Jordan is competitive. When Team USA's managing director hinted Bryant might be an option for the 2016 Olympics, of course social media exploded into a frenzy.
And, of course said frenzy lost all nuance and perspective. This is how we handle Kobe.
The argument for Bryant's inclusion is a good one, though, based on what he's done in the past. To fans more interested in what players have done for them lately (especially those who aren't fans of Kobe in the first place), the debate starts and ends with the last two seasons. You know, the worst of Kobe's NBA career.
Those who handle this conversation in such a manner should ask themselves this question, though: How would you handle the faction of people who judge your entire career by your worst performance? If you were up for an opportunity, and for the most part greatly deserve said opportunity, I'm not sure you'd enjoy those arguing against your inclusion looking only at your weakest moments, especially if everything else you've achieved put you among the greatest ever to do what you do.
In this case, Bryant's achievements put him somewhere in the top echelon of NBA greatness. Whether fans have him in their top five, 10 or wherever, he's in some incredibly thin air. In terms of Olympic performances, he almost single-handedly won them the gold in 2008 -- a team referred to as the Redeem Team for its goal of rehabilitating the USA's global basketball image.
Go back and watch the final minutes of that game. It's one of Kobe's most underrated performances. But that's too far removed from the torn Achilles and rotator cuff that have kept him off the court the last two seasons.
When the team isn't playing, Bryant spearheads trips to watch other American athletes perform. Should someone get credit for going to games? Yes, actually, they should, given the perception of American basketball players was one of spoiled athletes holed up in their hotel rooms before 2008.
I'm not saying Bryant is the only force behind the 180-degree turn Team USA has taken in this sense. Guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and on down the line also deserve a ton of credit. The tectonic shift we've seen wouldn't have occurred without an entire roster of superstars buying in. But when arguably the best in the game and his generation's Jordan dives headfirst into such an effort, those who looked up to him growing up will follow suit.
Go back and listen to the quotes that came out of those '08 games. Bryant was to whom those players pointed to when doling out credit. Detractors claimed most of those snippets were a result of the public relations machine that tends to drive narratives around NBA players, which is fine. It's incredibly cynical, but it's a fairly logical complaint.
Another issue people are quick to point to is the spot Bryant might take of someone more deserving. To which I say Christian Laettner made a roster over Shaquille O'Neal. Larry Bird made that same team despite hardly being able to stand up straight. Jason Kidd was on the 2008 team despite being roughly 2008 years old. Guys get spots on the roster or are left off (cut to Isiah Thomas nodding glumly) for reasons beyond simply basketball.
If we're factoring in a career's worth of work, Bryant has as much stake to this claim as any of those guys mentioned, if not more. Those worried about the message sent to players that even if they work their entire lives to earn a spot on such a team only to have it taken by someone less deserving because of some lifetime achievement award ignore how hard Kobe has worked. If I really want to head down Hot Take Road, I could say guys should work harder to ensure their spot in the top-11, taking into account one spot might be set aside for such an occasion.
Lastly, some who prefer Kobe left off the roster point to the rest of the world catching up to America in basketball. To those I point to a potential starting five of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, or some other iteration of the greatest the game has to offer.
I think they'll be just fine.
Look, I'll be the first to admit I'm biased. I've grown up with Kobe and my opinion is probably skewed as such. I would absolutely love for my last image of Bryant on a basketball court to be him standing on the podium, a gold medal around his neck as "The Star Spangled Banner" plays in the background. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
Thing is: I'll probably feel exactly the same way if this exact same situation arises and LeBron is the one in question and, decades down the line, I'll make the same case for whomever deserves this recognition. At the end of the day, Olympic teams are a pretty great way to look back and remember basketball at the time. If this is indeed Kobe's last season -- as most expect it to be -- including him on the roster would go a long ways in telling the story of basketball in 2016.