by Todd Spehr

Is anyone more of a contradiction than Kobe Bryant?

The fans that hate him (and there’s plenty) are outweighed only by the many that claim he’s without doubt the most gifted baller of this generation. He owns three rings, yet there’s some who have won more. Many believe he’s the best scorer in basketball, yet he doesn’t even have the most points from his draft class.

It’s never been easy being Kobe Bryant, and there are varying opinions on how he plays and how he conducts himself. Here is an attempt at trying to clear up some “Myths or Truths” surrounding KB24.

Myth: Kobe is the most maligned player ever.

Truth: Wilt Chamberlain perhaps boasts this distinction. Being bigger and stronger than everyone meant he should win more than anyone, and when he didn’t, his crazy statistical resume to a backseat to his inability have more titles.

Pete Maravich drew the ire of many with his fat salary and flashy play when he broke into the league, and went from being “the most overrated superstar to ever come down the pike” (Pat Riley’s words) to “if he played today he’d be the most popular player in the league” (Walt Frazier) following retirement.

And while Bryant is detested by everyone from Raja Bell’s mother to Charles Barkley – and many in between – he may not yet have reached the pinnacle of most hated despite the Shaq rift, a rape case, and publicly bashing management. He gave it a shot though, didn’t he?

Myth: Just like every other great scoring guard in NBA history, Bryant is a normal, sane human being.

Truth: No, they were all nuts. Jerry West was driven by constant visualization of what he felt his destiny was: failure. Pete Maravich didn’t want to get out of bed the morning after his 68-point game because he was now expected to do that every night. MJ was driven by an intense competitive nature – he wasn’t satisfied by merely matching LaBradford Smith’s point total on the second night of a back-to-back in ’93, but to find inner-peace, he had to do it by halftime.

Like those all-time greats, Kobe has his own unique and wacky rationale. He spent the better portion of his prime (post-Shaq, pre-Gasol era) without trusting his teammates and deemed that doing it all on his own was the better option. Right or wrong, there is a certain stubbornness that separates him, and makes him better.

Myth: Kobe is a better shooter than MJ.

Truth: We can sort this anecdotally or statistically. Yeah, Kobe might have better range, but the popular misconception is that MJ wasn’t a great shooter until post-baseball. Not true. 80’s Jordan had a mid-range game as good as any (check the tape of the Easter Sunday game at Detroit in ’88; or YouTube it) and while he didn’t hoist 3s at a high rate, it’s not like he couldn’t hit them, right Uncle Cliffy? Also, Kobe is yet to hit better than 50% FG in any of his 12 seasons, whereas MJ did it six times in an era when “riding” was an acceptable defensive strategy.

Myth: Comparing Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan is valid.

Truth: The comparison hung on for a long time – twelve years to be exact – but was officially put to rest on Tuesday, June 17, 2008, somewhere around halftime of Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts.

It warrants mentioning that Kobe is one of the most gifted, talented and special players to have ever played in the NBA, but there were simply too many qualities that Jordan was inordinately superior in for anyone (KB24 included) to be even mentioned in the same breath. Yet, for some reason, people will forever speak of Bryant “as the closest to…” and even, as was the case at times in recent years, make suggestions in Kobe’s favor in order to somehow pull him closer to MJ. Please don’t.

Myth: There is no adequate comparison, historically, for Kobe Bryant.

Truth: There is, and it’s Pete Maravich. It surprises me that this never even gets suggested. Kobe has been compared to Mike for so long it practically makes him incomparable to anyone else. But he and Maravich are, as individuals, almost one and the same.

Consider the similarities: The constant, never-ending glare of expectation; the incessant comparison to their predecessor (for Maravich it was Jerry West, for Kobe, well, it’s You Know Who); the loner’s mentality; the personality clashes with teammates, coaches, and management; the constant battle with being labeled an individual or selfish; living with awful supporting casts through their respective primes; incredible work ethics and self-motivation; staging non-shooting protests at times during games; and the ever-present “No matter what I do it may never be enough” tag that is/was heaped on them by their many critics.

Oh, and they’re easily two of perhaps the five most raw-talented players ever.

Myth: No guard has ever put on a performance like Kobe’s 81-point game.

Truth: Surprisingly, someone has. While Kobe’s 81-point game is the most prolific by a guard (and a ridiculously amazing performance), it is rivaled by Maravich’s 68-point game against the Knicks in ’77.

Had the 3-point line been in effect, Pistol would’ve hit over 70, perhaps 75. Having seen both games, it’s amazing to see they both got to a point where their scoring was so transcendent that a 5-on-5 game turned into 9-guys-watching – that’s how good they were. It warrants mentioning that MJ had a 69-18-6 line on the Cavs in ’90, which may never be duplicated on planet Earth again, and isn’t a bad performance either.

Myth: This was an attempt to show Kobe Bryant up.

Truth: No, believe it or not. The guy is a fascinating subject; sometimes he’s short-changed for his amazing ability, and other times he’s over-thrown and made better than he really is. The guy’s a stud, he’s finally an MVP, and is penciled in as an all-time great. That is no myth.