On Wednesday, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant demanded a trade. His beefs: The team didn't tell him that it would be trying to rebuild rather than contend for championships, and the front office has repeatedly planted rumors that he pushed to get rid of Shaquille O'Neal. Last May, Sam Anderson cataloged his hatred of Bryant. The short version: "I hate Kobe Bryant's rotten and derivative soul." The entire story is reprinted below.
When the Phoenix Suns embarrassed Kobe Bryant's Lakers this weekend in what should have been a classic Game 7, it marked the beginning of a kind of spiritual vacation for me. I detest Kobe with such bilious overpowering fervor that, when he's playing well, I have trouble doing much else with my life: an incapacitating dark sludge floods my soul. Over the last few weeks—as Kobe threw dirty elbows, made smug post-game comments, and beat the lovable Suns on a couple of irritatingly great last-second shots—my Kobe-hatred swelled to alarmingly high levels. With the Suns' victory, however, I felt the black tide begin to recede. Its absence still feels strange.
I don't hate Kobe for petty reasons: for his talent, for instance, which is beyond dispute and often gorgeous to watch, or because he sold out Shaq, or because he's an adulterer, or because his face looks like a weasel. I can forgive all of that. I don't even hate him because the referees surround him with a sacred halo of gentle touching (he was once so coddled in a playoff game that Ralph Nader had to start agitpropping about it), or because he's skewed the self-perceptions of pickup ball-hogs across the nation, or even because he makes close to my yearly salary every time he scores a basket. This is all irritating but peripheral. The true source of my rage is much, much deeper: I hate Kobe Bryant's rotten and derivative soul.
Since Michael Jordan's final title in 1998, NBA superstars have suffered mightily from what Harold Bloom termed "anxiety of influence." The Jordan myth—a morality play about how dedication, respect for the game, and loving your parents makes you the undisputed greatest person in the world—has stifled an entire generation of great players. But, as Jordan's most talented immediate successor, Kobe has been uniquely warped. He's plagiarized MJ's game so expertly that, in many ways, he's ahead of the master's curve—Kobe is stronger than the 27-year-old Jordan and has a deadlier outside shot. But for all his miraculous skills, Kobe is painfully bad at mythmaking. Since he's a Jordan-like talent, Kobe clearly thinks that he's entitled to the Jordan mythology, but he doesn't have any of Jordan's charisma or imagination. As melodramatic and managed as Jordan's career was, there was some authentic core—it was original and seemed to mean something. Kobe exists entirely within quotation marks.
Jordan was a master of pantomime. He built his empire largely on iconic celebratory gestures: the tongue-wag, the splay-legged fist pump, the impish "Even I marvel at my own divinity" shrug. Kobe's dramatic gestures are all either borrowed or embarrassing. After his game-winner over the Suns in Game 4, Kobe held his fist frozen in front of him exactly like MJ used to. But when he got clotheslined by Raja Bell in the next game, there was no script to work from: You could almost see him trying to remember if Come Fly With Me had any footage of Jordan getting horse-collared by Joe Dumars. Kobe finally improvised with a sassy hand-gesture shuffle. He wiped a pile of imaginary dirt off of his shoulder for a while, then added a schoolmarm finger waggle while making the least convincing tough-guy face I've ever seen. It was like a high-school production of West Side Story.