The Divisive One

by June 14, 2008

Written By Khalid Salaam

Is Kobe the most divisive person in America? Ben and I have discussed this question in the office several times and he posed the question on the site yesterday. While I’ve often disagreed with his place on the love/hate hierarchy (there are others who I feel create the same level of both unadulterated devotion and unabashed vitriol—Oprah, Bill and Hilary Clinton, R. Kelly, etc) its obvious that his group of supporters and detractors are continuously energized by his actions. The mere mention of his name of the Slam website causes responses in which the commentary is so personal and so over the top that it blurs the line between personal opinion and personal disaffection. To put it short, mofo’s be tripping.

From day one it’s been like this. Beyond his Finals appearance this year and the previous three championships he’s won, beyond the so called beef with you know who and beyond the incident in Colorado there are other reasons why the line of demarcation is so visible. They are as follows—

Sense of Entitlement:
Kobe came in to the League basically acting as if everyone should immediately trust and acknowledge his ability. Which for a guy straight from the preps rank was and still is ludicrous, but Kobe totally acted as if his you know what didn’t stink. Like the bratty rich kid stereotype in which Kobe’s style seemed to come from, people hated him if only because he seemed like he had everything handed to him and many people by reflex are turned off by that mentality. Kobe behaved and carried himself like an elitist and even if he played himself off as the boy next door, people saw through what they assumed was a façade. Playing in the city of Los Angeles, a place many people to be literally the phoniest city on the planet didn’t help. LA is seen by many as the physical embodiment of American greed and his embrace of the city only reinforced the most negative suspicions.

Cloning MJ:
When is imitation the result of studying another person’s success and using the best attributes of this person to improve your abilities and when is it just basic copying, devoid of any of your personal traits to the point where its just you riding the jock of another man? Kobe is right on the line with that. He talks like MJ, walks like MJ, shoots his fadeaway like MJ, everything like MJ. People want originality but they will accept copycats, as long as it’s not so obvious. And Kobe’s is often, too easy to identify.

Supreme Talent:
Copying someone as revered as Jordan may cause some grumbles but it’s not easy. His ardent fanbase grew so quickly and swelled so gloriously mainly due to the fact the Kobe is nasty. Really undeniably nasty. His ability to get his shot off and the variety in which he scores is in the present day NBA without peer and on par with the greatest scorers and players this sport has ever witnessed.

His Wifey:
Whether or not people consciously are aware of this or not, people are judged on the company they keep. Is it anyone’s business? Hell no and the current climate of personal information being open for the public to dissect and comment on is something we’ll look back on in 10 years and note it as the point when we started on our downward spiral as a species. Nevertheless, people are consumed with celebrity lives and all the controversies surrounding him and his wife make for great entertainment for lots of people. The fact that he, much like quite a few Black male athletes (but not MJ interestingly enough), married a non-Black woman is proof positive of several things. If you are affected by the cultural climate that says certain preconditioned stereotypes about beauty are true, then you see manifested in Kobe’s wife his acceptance of that stereotype. And you love it, whether you know it or want to admit it. Conversely, if you are of the thinking that this particular stereotype is a side effect of a calculated conditioning that devalues something that he should love, and that seeing Kobe envelope himself in this anyway, you hate it.

My loving mother doesn’t know anything about the NBA and doesn’t care to know. And even she knows about Kobe Bean Bryant. When people transcend popular culture and become part of the fabric that binds us all in to a bigger familiarity, those people become mega-stars. Kobe by the impact of his career and playing in Hollywood is indeed a mega-star and exists in the rarefied air of the truly famous. Lots of people, I would say half at least are legitimately enraptured of the rich and famous. Three outta ten are envious of them and two outta ten are fine with their celebritydom but do not allow it to affect their lives. But ten out ten know of them and because of his sheer popularity people have their opinions of him. All the other things about him would not matter as much if people didn’t know who he was. It fuels everything else. And it will continue until he retires and is out of the everyday public eye.