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The best writing on Kobe

(Image via Sam Woolley)

To be complicated is to be interesting, which is to be worth writing about, which is something contemporaries like Tim Duncan never were.

From the moment Kobe Bryant came on the scene, his life built up and unfolded and tugged back and forth in the type of public manner few others have experienced.

Kobe was the subject of some of the best sportswriting of the last 25 years, both fawning and unfavorable, oftentimes in the same story:

What Kobe Bryant was capable of, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Elizabeth Kaye, October, 2003

In my eyes, the best piece of writing on him, ever, which serves as a raw look at his life leading up to and through the Colorado rape case. A snippet:
In the seasons that follow, the coaches urge the other players to be patient with Kobe. After a time Shaq resents it. “When I came to this league I was supposed to be at 100 percent,” he tells a reporter. “No one said, ‘Be patient with Shaq. He’s learning.’”
Yet when it comes to basketball Kobe is better, perhaps, than anyone who ever played, with the inevitable exception of Michael Jordan. They all know it. They know that he knows it. “Putting Kobe in the NBA -- what that’s like,” says his teammate Brian Shaw, “Is if you put me on a high school team. I could score whenever I wanted. I could get through four guys. I’d have to decide: Do I do that because I can do it, or do I play the right way?”
But Kobe is not always interested in playing the right way. By his fifth year that has taken its toll. He goes one night to the home of Jerry West, the Lakers’ general manager, one of the all-time greats and a man who understands that the exceptionally gifted play by a different rule book. “My teammates hate me,” Kobe tells West.
“I’d hate you too,” West responds, “if I were your teammate.”

If you read one long piece on him, have it be this.

Kobe Bryant’s glorious ending, ESPN, J.A. Adande, April, 2016

It was spectacular. It was so self-indulgent. It was so ... Kobe.
Kobe Bryant went out in the most Kobefied way possible. Sixty points on 50 shots. FIFTY SHOTS. He shot shot shot to the very end. He either defied his critics or proved them right. You're welcome to choose.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t want your love, Esquire, Mike Sager, November, 2007

Joe (Bryant) was known as a showboat. He played eight years in the NBA, four with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, who stuck him under the basket in their old-school, East Coast offense. Jellybean thought of himself as more of a Magic Johnson-type player who was being held back from greatness. In Italy, he became the player he dreamed of being, high scoring (he had two fifty-plus-point games) and beloved; Kobe remembers the fans singing songs about his dad. When Kobe was a toddler, he’d put on his little Sixers uniform and watch his dad on television.
Kobe would pretend to play in the game, mimicking his dad’s moves, taking time-outs for water when the team did. As Kobe got older, he would end up playing for the same Italian club team as his dad, only in a younger division, wearing the exact same game uniform for real. Frequently, Joe would bring Kobe to his own practices. At age eleven, a team from Bologna tried to buy him from his parents. By thirteen, Kobe was beating his dad’s teammates one-on-one.

Kobe’s final challenge, Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins, June, 2007

"It's never personal with me," Bryant says with a sarcastic grin, which of course is his way of saying that it's always personal. For a child of the 1980s who joined the Lakers before he was old enough to vote, there was perhaps nothing more personal than the loss to the Celtics in the Finals two years ago, punctuated by the 131–92 blowout in Game 6 and the bus ride in which it was rubbed in his face. 
"A loss like that," intones former Celtic Bill Walton, "is an indelible stain on the soul." Bryant will not go that far, but after he beat the Celtics at TD Garden in January on a fadeaway jumper with 7.3 seconds left, he mockingly hummed the team's unofficial anthem in the shower: I'm Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys. Bryant will now get a second chance to dropkick the Celtics in the Finals, with much more than revenge at stake.

Show time!, Sports Illustrated, Ian Thomsen, April, 1998

Last December, before the Los Angeles Lakers' annual pilgrimage to Chicago, the team's director of public relations, John Black, quietly warned 19-year-old Kobe Bryant that the press was about to open public hearings into the matter of whether he was, indeed, the next Michael Jordan. Bryant could have gone into a slump right then.
"It doesn't bother me," he responded. "I expect to be that good."

The great unknown, Sports Illustrated, L. Jon Wertheim, April, 2006

Like Jordan, he is capable of reducing even All-Stars to little kids in his presence. In a nearly deserted hallway long after a late-March game against Sacramento, Bryant emerged from the locker room to find his wife, Vanessa, and three-year-old daughter, Natalia, waiting for him. Kings forward Ron Artest, whom Bryant had badly outplayed on this evening, came by, carrying a throwaway camera and his five-year-old son, Ron Ron.
"Kobe, would you take a picture with my boy?" Artest asked, the way a timid kid would ask a teacher for a favor. "Sure," said Kobe, stationing himself between Natalia and Ron Ron as Artest snapped away.

The best piece of writing since Kobe’s death.

But it is 2020 now, and Jeffrey Epstein is dead and Harvey Weinstein is in a New York courtroom, and erasing a female victim is no longer a viable moral and ethical strategy. Kobe Bryant died on Sunday with one of the young women in his life, and how you will come to measure his life has to be judged by how deeply you believe that he corrected his grievous fault through the life he lived afterwards, and how deeply you believe that he corrected that fault, immediately and beautifully, and in midair.

Joe “Jelly” Bryant should have been better. Simply put, he was a knucklehead. He was indeed very skilled, but in the end he was a Double A Antoine Walker, a player whose whole was nowhere near the sum of his parts. He just didn’t get it.
Exhibit A was his immortal line upon learning he had just been traded from the 76ers to the Clippers. Said Jelly, “I guess this means they don’t want a Magic Johnson-type around here.“
So, how did his offspring emerge as such a dedicated, intelligent, and precise player? We’ll never know. Perhaps Kobe figured, “I’ll just do as Dad didn’t do.”

Kobe still attended some Lakers games after he retired, but he wasn’t a constant presence. It wasn’t that he didn’t love being at the games. It’s that other things mattered more: family things, dad things, his kids’ things. 
Basketball had given him so much, had given all the Bryants so much. After two decades, though, he wasn’t going to allow it to take anymore.

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