Kobe Bryant: The air apparent that is

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The Kobe Bryant-Michael Jordan comparison that raged on for years has seemed to die down a bit recently. And even though it might never be a great time to bring the conversation up because every fan has their own very strong opinion on the matter, that’s what I’m here for. 
 
You either assume Michal Jordan is the best basketball player that ever graced the game with his presence, you believe Kobe Bryant is the better of the two or that Kobe is quickly approaching that status. There rarely is any middle ground.
 
But as fans of basketball, why do we even have to have such a comparison? Has sensationalist sports media really forced fans into a corner like this? Can we as fans, players, coaches and practioners of the game of basketball not subjectively appreciate what each has done for the game? Or, is Kobe Bryant actually the closest thing to Michael Jordan we will ever see?
 
Even if Kobe Bryant never reaches the pinnacle of the sport, and he never achieves what many believe is his ultimate goal in being better than Michael Jordan, us as fans must appreciate who he is and what he has done.

It’s astonishing to sit and watch tape of Kobe Bryant side by side with those of Michael Jordan. The footwork is the same. The post moves are the same. The spots on the floor the players choose are the same. The confidence is the same. The clutch gene is the same. The titles and game winning shots are celebrated the same. And even the badgering and belittling of their teammates is the same (it’s no secret that Michael Jordan was one of the harshest leaders to grace the hardwood). It’s eerily ironic how many similarities both players really share. They were both even coached by the same guy: Phil Jackson. It’s almost as if the basketball gods wanted to play a sick joke on the fans and send us a replica version of Michael Jordan.
 
And even with so much in common, according to many fans and media personalities Kobe Bryant has always been the villain for wanting to be Michael. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Kobe Bryant shouldn’t be villainized for his blatant imitations of Michael Jordan; he should be celebrated.
 
Maybe when it’s all said and done Kobe’s story will have a different narrative. Maybe at that point in time the basketball community will appreciate what he did for the game, and who he was as a player.
 
In the here and now Kobe is simply the Michael Jordan want to be. The goat that never was, and the selfish superstar that copy-catted the NBA’s greatest winner.
 
But why is that? I’m sure many of you remember the film “Like Mike,” starring Lil’ Bow Wow. The title speaks for itself. Any young player growing up wanted to be Michael Jordan. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve played basketball with that wore Jordan apparel and even tried to stick their tongues out just like Mike did. Somehow it’s understandable for these players to idolize Michael Jordan in hopes of becoming him, but for Kobe Bryant, it’s villainous.
 
Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, and that would mean that Kobe Bryant (who was born in 1978) would have been around six years old upon Jordan’s arrival. Michael Jordan did not win his first NBA title until 1991, and at that point in time Kobe Bryant was roughly thirteen years of age. And for those of you who at one point were 13-year-old basketball players, you remember how much you idolized star NBA players.
 
For the 13-year-old version of me, I wanted to be Allen Iverson. I bought his shoes, I bought his arm bands and I even tried to make my own signature Allen Iverson sleeve (which has quickly become one of the worst fashion trends in pick-up basketball and beyond). So, on this real time scale it’s easy to see how Kobe Bryant would have grown up idolizing Michael. He grew up watching all of Michael’s titles, and he studied him. He studied him to the core; to the point where Kobe Bryant even barked orders at teammates and assumed himself superior to anyone that ever stepped on the basketball court. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the footage.
 
In the above video Kobe Bryant is getting ready for his first All-Star game, and an All-Star starter at that. He is 19 years old, and even more noteworthy is the fact that Kobe wasn’t even a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers at this point. Kobe received a lot of media scrutiny, and even scrutiny from players around the league for being an all-star starter. So amidst all the pressure, the spotlight and all the scrutiny Kobe Bryant is facing; what does he say when he’s asked about Michael Jordan sending him a message in the All-Star Game?
 
“Maybe, but I want to send him a message that I don’t back down from anybody,” he said at the time.
 
Remember, this was the 1998 season; the same season Michael won his sixth title. At this point Michael was tied with Magic Johnson for NBA titles, and was essentially the great Michael Jordan we know him as now. And this 19-year-old kid, who’s not even old enough to legally buy a beer, and isn’t even a starter for his own team seriously has the audacity to challenge Michael Jordan?
 
You can’t hear the quotes and look at Kobe’s attitude and tell me he didn’t learn that from studying Michael. Kobe not only studied his style of play, but he even adopted Michael’s competitiveness. And then Kobe challenged him.
 
If I’m allowed to tie up my laces and dream of being “Like Mike,” then why can’t Kobe? And why is Kobe villanized for such when the rest of the nation that wishes the same isn’t?
 
Maybe it’s because he played for the Lakers, one of America’s favorite teams to hate. Maybe it’s because the basketball world beloved Michael so much that they couldn’t stand that anyone would attempt to step on the foundation he built. I mean, how dare any competitive, professional basketball player challenge Michael, right? Or maybe Kobe is just misunderstood.

Not only has Bryant allowed another generation to see the closest form to Michael Jordan there has ever been, but he has spent countless hours studying, and mimicking his game to resemble the idol he grew up watching. Regardless of how much you hate the guy, or hate his team, it does astonish me how many people don’t respect him. How many players in the league study the game of basketball to the extent that Kobe has?
 
Fast forward to the year 2013, and Kobe Bryant is on the verge of the end of his career, and his Lakers can’t seem to catch a break. Their season has been plagued with injury, and now Dwight Howard is firing jabs at Bryant, and rumors of Howard’s departure from LA are starting to emerge. Kobe Bryant may not win that sixth title, and he will never be Michael Jordan, but as fans of basketball he deserves to be appreciated for what he has done. And hopefully fans realize that before they turn on their television and the closest thing to Michael Jordan is gone.
 
Remember: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.