The Great Pretender


“We never talk about this, but why do you hate Kobe so much?” 

It was an innocuous question asked by one of my friends on Facebook. 

The Real Deal

Everyone knows I have an aversion to all things Kobe.  My hatred for him is so natural I never really consider why I hate him. It’s as natural as liking the color pink,  or hating the prickly taste of pickles–you do not know why you do, you just do. 

Kobe Bryant is on my hate list because of the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan. And, I am not just talking about lame sportscasters or columnists (Jemele Hill, what were you thinking?), but friends and family that refuse to see Kobe for the imitator that he is. During the NBA Finals half-time show, Kobe revealed his passion for studying Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, MJ, Magic, and other greats. Kobe, flashing his trademark smile, said, “I guess you could say I copy a lot of my moves.”  Therein lies the problem. 

There is nothing signature about Kobe’s style. Everything that he does has been done by

The Imitation

someone else, only that someone else perfected these moves. His pull-up jump shot, his fade away, his cross-over–Kobe Bryant is Michael Jordan’s bizarro.  Remember that episode of Seinfield where Jerry explains to Elaine that  Bizarro is Superman’s exact opposite,  living in a bizarro world where up is down, and down is up? Sounds crazy? 

Think about it, Kobe’s father is Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, former pro NBA player. Most people don’t even know the name of  Michael’s father, let alone his profession. Yet  James Jordan’s son  became  (arguably) the greatest player on the court. Kobe is decidedly cocky during his post-game interviews, letting everyone know that he is not remotely interested in what people think about him. Jordan played the media like a fine-tuned six-string guitar; you never knew about “the incident” with Steve Kerr,  his womanizing, and while there was a whiff of his penchant for gambling,  it was not enough to cause ripples. Michael had role players. Kobe has a full bail-out plan (Quick trivia question: where would the Lakers be if Artest had not saved Kobe’s air ball against Phoenix? And, what about Derek Fisher–the real closer last night? Could Boston have taken a 2-1 lead?). Kobe proves during the Finals, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, that he knows a lot more than how to speak Italian, but also, that he has mastered the art of magic. Like a poof of smoke, Kobe disappears. Arriverderci!  

Kobe has been studying this game since he was three, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a student of the game.  A few superstars  need to follow his lead. (Ahem, Dwight Howard.) But it’s as though Kobe is an actor remaking a classic film; he does not know how to own the role by adding his special touch to it. Or, maybe the problem is that Michael Jordan’s skills on the court can not be duplicated. Think Casablanca.  There are numerous Casablanca sequels and prequels. Yet everyone remembers the Casablanca with Humphrey and Ingrid.  Something tells me that a remake of Casablanca with Brad Pitt saying to a misty-eyed Angelina Jolie, “Here’s looking at you, kid” might be a blockbuster hit among drooling pubescent boys and hopeless romantics. But others would shout, or perhaps scream, that you simply cannot remake a classic! 

Memo to Kobe: Jordan is off-limits. And not because Kobe is not the greatest player alive (because the greatest of all time retired), but if you are going to remix a classic, then the remix must be better than the original. Not nearly, almost, or just as good–better. 

Kobe wants so badly to replicate what he studies on-screen that he does not play his game. This is the lure of Lebron James, and why, despite all claims to the contrary, that his “King James” moniker will not fade. James plays his game–he slashes to the rim, chases down lay-ups from the other end of the court, barrels to the rim like a football player. James is so spectacular because we have never seen a player with that speed and uncouth style that seems more suitable for the gridiron than the court. Lebron’s uncouth style is distinctly his own. Kobe’s style is like a borrowed hand-me-down sweater that sags in places where it fit your brother or sister just right. 

And while Kobe is still hitting impossible shots and eyeing another championship, he will always live in Michael’s shadow, because he refuses to cultivate his own style. Everyone is always going to see Michael in Kobe; Kobe deliberately does so much that reminds us of Michael. Sadly, this  only diminishes Kobe’s legend as Michael lives on through Kobe’s fade away jumper, which  becomes lackluster when reviewing Jordan’s ballet-like fade away. 

When you think of great players, you think of the unique talent that each individual brings to the game. Kareem had the sky hook. Jordan had the deadly fadeaway jumper. What custom (tradmark) move do you think of when musing about Kobe’s talent? Good, got that move stored in your head? Wait, no, there’s a problem? Michael Jordan’s voice keeps bumping into your thoughts, saying: “That’s not his move, man. He stole that from me.” The same thing happens to me, because all Kobe Bryant does is remind us of all how great Michael Jordan was. And,  how far from “His Air” Kobe falls.

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~ by Miss Tea on June 9, 2010.

One Response to “The Great Pretender”

  1. GREAT READ!!!

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