Kobe Bryant has been called one of the best basketball players ever by many and the greatest basketball player of all time by a select, ignorant, lobotomized few. He has been called a first-round draft pick, an MVP, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, the NBA Player of the Decade, and the greatest Laker of all time. I’m sure his wife called him a few other things after his well-documented “indiscretion” that occurred a few years back. Now, he can be called 5-time World Champion.
I don’t choose to call him any of these things. To me, he is the Johnny Lawrence of the NBA.
You remember Johnny from the original Karate Kid movie, right? He was the blonde-haired king of the Cobra Kai dojo and the defending All-Valley Karate Tournament champion. Only a crane-style kick to the face from the impish Daniel LaRusso kept him from repeating. Even though over 25 years have passed, I still grin whenever I see Daniel-son get into his constipated flamingo pose and kick his way into icon status on behalf of all of us who have ever been outcasts.
Johnny was the archetypal 80’s villain, but he didn’t need to be. He had everything that one particular portly 8-year-old boy who will remain nameless wanted: perfectly coiffed hair, rugged good looks, rad karate skills, a passel of buddies with slightly less rad karate skills willing to back him up, and plenty of attention from the ladies. Daniel was just the skinny new kid who happened to have the misfortune of getting too cozy with his ex-girlfriend. Being a nice guy was a viable choice, but Johnny chose to be an arrogant jerk. He chose to torment Daniel. He chose to only care about himself.
The Karate Kid had Johnny; the NBA has Kobe.
Kobe might be the most generous person in the world. At Christmas, he might turn into Santa Kobe and be carried around on a sleigh by a bunch of reindeer, much like he was carried in Game 7 of this year’s Finals by Ron Artest and company. Maybe he is Robin Kobe, stealing from the court side crowd at Staples Center and secretly dispersing it to those in need. It is possible that Kobe is planning to retire soon to start an orphanage or serve in a homeless shelter or at the very least become Pau Gasol’s personal stylist.
To me, Kobe is a jerk. I don’t like viewing him in this way, really. Normally I do a decent job of seeing the good in people. Even Johnny Lawrence had some good qualities; he presented Daniel with the highly coveted trophy after being on the bad end of an upset and declared Daniel to be “all right.” I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities from Kobe.
There probably are some, though. He probably doesn’t have a curt answer for ever question or a scowl for every fan. He may give to charity and spend time with those who are down and out. He may have even hooked Artest up with the psychiatrist that he is crazy about and mentioned in the best postgame interview of all time.
But what if there is nothing at all good about Kobe Bryant other than his ability to play basketball? What if he is a punk to the bone? What if the people who know him the best, dislike him the most?
He is still loved by God.
Just like that guy you work with who always seems to steal the credit that you deserve, or the parent who hit instead of hugged, or the spouse who traded you for a newer model, or the boss who refuses to see your worth, or any of the people who have wronged you throughout your life. Or even me and you.
That is just one of God’s “things.” He loves. We don’t have to understand it to accept it. Kobe the 5-time world champion is also Kobe the beloved. And you are beloved, too. Seeing Kobe as God sees him is a good thing; seeing ourselves as God sees us is even better.
We are beloved.