Image Is Everything
Kobe is uncool. That’s why he can’t be the Greatest.
by Quinn Peterson
I’ll start by saying I’m definitely a Kobe supporter. I’ve long argued that, skill-for-skill, he’s as good as Mike. If that’s untrue, the argument has certainly never held more strength than it does now. But that’s another story.
What’s in question here, is why, if that’s even semi-true, doesn’t Kobe get that same love that Mike got. Even if one doesn’t agree that Kobe is as good as Mike, he’s pretty damn close, and that alone should warrant some kind of praise. But it doesn’t. Not to the extent it should.
Instead, there’s a reluctance to accept what Kobe’s done. I’m not saying no one likes Kobe or everything he does goes unnoticed. Much to the contrary. Proof of that was recently eloquently stated on this site.
But it’s the fact there’s even a necessity to have this argument. We like to think the stats and numbers should speak for themselves, but that’s just not true. At least not in this case. Four rings, maybe five, possibly more. Three straight trips to the Finals — for the second time. All-time leading scorer in Lakers history. The list goes on. And you can add clutch shot after clutch shot to that as well. Everything that is said to determine who’s great and who’s not.
What’s interesting is that who’s great and who’s loved, however, apparently have no correlation. Not in Kobe’s case. When it comes to him those facts go in one ear and out the other for many.
It’s really pretty unfortunate. Throughout his career, no athlete of such an elite stature has committed social suicide so many times. The Black Mamba, time and time again, has put himself in the worst positions. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes just bad luck.
And it’s not merely the Colorado incident. Even before that, his chances at world domination were wary.
From day one, he’s placed himself in a line of fire like Denzel at the end of Training Day. Starting when he put those shades on the top of his head when he declared he was “taking his talent” to the League. It came off as corny, and the perceived arrogance made people hate him. As soon as he set foot in Tinsel Town he was slighted.
Since then, it’s been one event after another. And not Dennis Rodman or Ron Artest events. Not being a jerk with the media. Just flat-out lame s#@!. For instance, 2000 NBA All-Star Weekend. When Kobe decided to perform “K.O.B.E.” alongside Tyra Banks … in another language. WHAT?!
The aforementioned sexual allegation of course wasn’t a good look.
Or when the whole Shaq/Kobe drama took off and began to play itself out in public. Not only was the perception that he ran Diesel out of town, but it was later rumored that comments Kobe made around that time played a role in the demise of Shaq’s marriage.
“HE SNITCHED?!?! Aw hell naw!!!”
Ulitmate no, no. Especially since it was regarding Shaq’s wife. Nas came through and laced him with a whole verse for that one.
“From OJ to Kobe, or let’s call him Tobe, … turn around and you s#@! on Shaq?”
Then in 2007, he demanded a trade. Recently, we’ve seen “The Jaw.” Those L.A. Times Magazine photos last month. So on and so forth. Hell, even the Nike MVPuppets commercials, which feature him, have played him like a straight cornball, especially in relation to LeBron. All this adds up to an immense amount of hate and disdain for a guy who, based on his accomplishments, should be getting the Prince Akeem treatment.
Part of the problem is that Kobe, being the competitor he is, just doesn’t care, something he stated clearly back in SLAM 66: “I know what I can do individually, but right now I’ma keep winnin’ and make every single one of y’all hate my guts,” he said.
For better or worse, he’s always been all about the Ws. As long as he wins, he doesn’t care. That’s how it should be. But it’s America, things can’t just be that easy.
As a “basketball head to the bone,” as Bryan Crawford put it, I can confidently say I’ve been able to overlook these incidents, only worrying about what’s going on the hardwood.
More generally though, the result has been that, no matter what he does or who he tries to please, people still hate. This is one of the most accomplished players EVER in the history of the game. He should have the whole world eating from his hand the way Mike did. But he doesn’t. Why?
How can he successfully emulate Mike’s every move, and, more importantly, back it up with hardwood, but not feel the same love? The answer is actually quite simple: He’s not cool. Period. And that’s the major issue.
“He’s a square,” people say. Men and women, across the world, all bring themselves to hate the Black Mamba. And it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on on the court, per se.
Mike was, hands down the coolest, smoothest cat doin’ it. Straight up. Kobe’s not… at all. Bryant had a failed rap attempt; MJ had one of the most ubiquitous and memorable jingles of all time made hailing to His Airness. They never even mentioned the actual product, Gatorade.
That’s where the dilemma is. That’s why people have become so infatuated with King James but not KB24. Keep it 100, LeBron is cool as hell. Stays fresh, calmly chops it up with Hov on the sidelines during the game, makes appearances in clubs and at hip-hop concerts, etc. That’s why, despite his shortcomings in the Playoffs, he’s managed to stay ahead of Kobe in the minds of many. He’s cool, that’s really all it comes down to.
That’s the difference between being great, like Kobe, and being an icon, like Jordan. Cats wanted to be Jordan on and off the court. He was cool. He was cooler than cool. He was ice cold. This guy just looks cooler than this one, plain and simple. That’s all it takes.
I guess we should really be inspecting America in this particular discussion, because abroad, specifically in China, Kobe is that dude. Over here though, image is everything. It doesn’t matter what you’re output is, if you don’t look a certain way doing it, it means nothing in the eyes of the public. It’s a harsh, but true, reality. Welcome to Pop Culture, USA.
That’s certainly not a groundbreaking fact; however, it is one that has become all the more clear as Kobe has continued to wow us by draining shots with guys damn near stitched onto his uniform, but the willingness to finally suck it up and salute the man has remained just as challenging for some of his detractors.
Given everything he’s done, it should be a no-brainer of how dope he is. Yet the need to defend what should really speak for itself, shows it’s clearly not. And even if (when?) Kobe gets his fifth ring in these next few weeks, the need to defend him will still remain. I’ll be one of those defenders, no doubt, but it’s ashamed that it’s even necessary.