The year was 1996. William Jefferson Clinton had just been re-elected. Americans were captivated by the homegrown terror of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls had staked their claim as a legitimate NBA dynasty. And in June, the Los Angles Lakers landed an 18-year-old phenom from Philadelphia named Kobe Bryant. For the sporting world, the timing could not have been better.
Jordan, who would go on to win six NBA Championships, had solidified himself as the game’s greatest player.
Following the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabar, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, Jordan shaped a style of play that would revolutionize the game of basketball, and grabbed hold of a level of infamy unseen by any of his predecessors.
Jordan made basketball into entertainment, and in an age of glitz and glamour Bryant seemed to have been bred to dazzle fans worldwide.
The son of a former 76er, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe was immediately entrenched in the wonderful world of NBA stardom. After his father’s NBA days were numbered, the Bryant family moved to Italy, where Joe played professionally, and Kobe gained overseas basketball and life experience. Returning to the States, Kobe attended Lower Marion High School in Philadelphia, the place where the legend of his innovative talents and NBA aspirations was first crafted.
It was no surprise that Kobe, who had watched Kevin Garnett make the jump from high school to the NBA the previous year, chose to test his skills against the world’s best.
For the NBA, this young, vibrant manchild seemed to be the answer to all their prayers. Although originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles obtained him in a trade that immediately allowed the Lakers to regain the star power that had come to embody their franchise.
For Jordan, Bryant would serve as the young rebel terrorizing the Western Conference, and threatening his reign as the game’s greatest. The media was drooling at the chance to cover the triumphs that the young star was sure to reach over the course of his career.
The year 1996 was less than a decade ago, but for Kobe Bryant it probably seems like a lifetime.
What once seemed to be a guaranteed path to worldwide adoration and endorsement has suddenly shifted into a last minute attempt to resurrect a career. Numerous feuds with former coach Phil Jackson and ex-teammate Shaquille O’Neal and one rape trial have skewed Bryant’s legacy forever.
For the first six years of Kobe’s career, his boyish charm and natural charisma helped to overshadow allegations of selfishness and arrogance. The 2004 case Kobe Bryant vs. the State of Colorado cast a gloom over Kobe that no level of charm could help him escape. Testimony of aggressive and vulgar sexual acts and 24-7 media coverage, forced America to question whether its hero had disguised himself from the beginning.
Allegations from Jackson, a nine-time NBA Champion, that Bryant was “uncoachable” have added insult to injury, and further caused some members of Kobe’s legion of fans to go searching for another hero.
His conflict with Shaq, supposedly over his role as Los Angeles’ second option, has been well publicized.
Now, with Jackson vacationing on some beach in Fiji and Shaq preparing to lead the Miami Heat, and bully his way through the Eastern Conference, Kobe sits in purgatory out in Los Angeles. Surrounded by second-rate players like Lamar Odom and Brian Grant, Kobe will finally prove how good he really is.
Time is running out for Kobe Bryant and the fans and his ego may not be able to handle another year like 2004.
Now is the time when Los Angeles’ Golden Boy will have the spotlight squarely on him, but if he can’t deliver a phenomenal season-long performance in 2004-2005, the legend of Kobe Bryant may quickly frame him as the game’s greatest tragic hero.
Steven Jumper is a junior English student from Washington. He is deputy sports editor for The Famuan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org