Whether it is a WWE announcer brazenly making a highly inappropriate joke referencing the 2003 rape allegations, TMZ obsessing over photos of a topless Kobe Bryant (reportedly, while waiting for a new shirt after someone spilled a drink on him), or even the NBC announcers harping on every missed shot, Bryant must feel right at home as he competes for the gold medal as a member of Team USA in London.
To say Bryant is accustomed to the constant scrutiny would be an understatement. He’s taken as many ‘shots’ to his character and personality as his detractors complain about him talking while on the court. Generally, the more level-headed and honest Laker fans will tell you the truth on Bryant lies somewhere in the middle. Regardless of where you may stand on Bryant, doubting his abilities will usually end in your own frustration, as Bryant remains the most successful player in today’s NBA. In fact, his five rings ranks him above all other players combined on this current Team USA roster.
Is Bryant the same player he was during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? Of course not, but would anyone within their right mind expect him to be? Heading into his 17th NBA season, Bryant is willingly taking on a role-player position with Team USA. On a team full of offensive firepower, why would Bryant do anything differently? Just for perspective, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird averaged 8.0 and 8.4 points per game (respectively) during the 1992 Olympics. Although neither of them were anywhere near their prime, no one would have dared questioning them.
Part of that is because there was nowhere near as much global and multi-level coverage of the every waking minute of players’ lives at that time. Another part of it is due to the fact that even though analysts and fans understood/accepted the natural decline of the older veterans on the 1992 roster, people still maintained perspective and acknowledged the total impact of having those players on the court. That bit of reality certainly hasn’t quieted any of the naysayers. Many will continue to point out Bryant’s 9.8 ppg average, and want to belabor the fact that he is shooting under 40 percent.
Have you not watched his game over the past two decades? Bryant is a volume scorer, and always has been. If given the opportunity to get into a rhythm, he is capable of the type of scoring outbursts we witnessed against Nigeria (16 points in little over 14 minutes). Much like what I imagine we’ll see from him throughout this coming NBA season, Bryant realizes he has to pick and choose his spots. He’s only playing 14.8 minutes per game, and is not the primary ball-handler on offense.
Interestingly enough, those same individuals that criticize Bryant, fail to mention the fact that LeBron James is only scoring 11.6 ppg. Obviously, that isn’t a knock against the reigning Finals MVP, but a reality of the team-atmosphere Coach K has been able to generate. Bryant, James, and the rest of these men realize there is a greater goal at stake than attempting to pad or secure personal legacies. I won’t be surprised to see Bryant continue playing limited minutes until he is truly needed to extend himself, just as I won’t be surprised to see him make significant contributions when called upon. If you’ve been paying attention over the past 17 (or so) years, it’s simply what he does.