What will Kobe Bryant say in his Hall of Fame speech?
One year after Michael Jordan lambasted his critics by name during his induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, former teammate Scottie Pippen thanked everyone who got him there. One year after Jordan oozed his arrogance by making it all about him and no one else, Karl Malone displayed his humility by shedding a tear after making it about everyone else. One year after Jordan boasted that players, including, himself, win championships, Lakers owner Jerry Buss modestly suggested the same thing.
Basketball writers who covered this year's Hall of Fame induction certainly noticed the difference in tenor. NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper observed, "In the first enshrinement since Michael Jordan hijacked the ceremony with a petty verbal hit list, in the summer of labor negotiations and The Decision, eight individuals and two U.S. Olympic teams were enshrined in the Hall of Fame on a Friday night that will be remembered for heart and, thankfully, the positive emotions." ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin noted that in Buss' acceptance speech, "There wasn't a hint of arrogance to him. He didn't throw up both hands and spread out his fingers to represent each of the 10 championships his teams have won in the 31 seasons since he took over in 1979." And Ball Don't Lie's Dan Devine summed up the theme of this year's Hall of Fame induction this way: "Honoring the game and yourself by staying true to your essential nature."
This got me thinking into what the tenor of Kobe Bryant's Hall of Fame speech will be, whenever it is. Will it consist of that competitive arrogance and score-settling that Jordan spewed? Or will it simply showcase Bryant's intense devotion to the game he loves that this year's inductees demonstrated? No doubt, there will be elements of both. I'm sure he'll at some point boast about winning three rings at a young age and then showing his ability to lead a team after Shaquille O'Neal left. But I'm also sure he'll wax nostalgic and show gratitude for Jerry West immediately recognizing his talent at such a young age. I'm sure he'll poke fun at his critics for saying he's too young to lead a team, can't win without Shaq, too selfish to be a good teammate, and lately, too old because of his numerous injuries. But I'm also sure in a sense he'll express appreciation for the wild journey he's experienced.
I remain uncertain, however, on what the overall theme will consist of through his speech for multiple reasons. Though I've followed his entire career as a basketball fan, I just started covering the Lakers six months ago, and I won't even pretend that I know much about him on a personal level, even superficially. Though I've been an observant reporter and have taken note on his viewpoints since I started covering the team, I've always thought solely using someone's interactions with the media is an unfair and incomplete way in outlining someone's personality.
Besides, Bryant has changed his public persona over the years from being an overly generous and insightful player during his rookie season, being a closed and guarded individual during the Colorado aftermath, his relationship with Shaq and his frustration with the organization and most recently a mix in between. During Bryant's tumultuous time during the Colorado case, respected NBA writer Jack McCallum quoted a source close to Bryant as describing him as a "cold and calculating man." Yet, The Times' Mark Heisler had covered and known Bryant since the beginning of his career and wrote that he knew Bryant fairly well and described him as "very nice and very laid-back, but arch-sensitive about his image." before 2004 in which Heisler noted he fell out of Bryant's "the circle of trust."
Even with my limited exposure to Bryant, I couldn't help but notice how much of a contrast he showed before and during the NBA Finals and immediately afterwards. Before and during the title run, Bryant remained stoic and insisted he didn't care one bit about his legacy and what it would mean to beat the Celtics in the NBA Finals. After the Lakers secured Game 7, Bryant shared his vulnerabilities and acknowledged he forced the issue in Game 7 because the stakes meant so much to him. A week later during his exit interview, Bryant appeared as laid back and relaxed as I had ever seen him, speaking in a genial, jovial, comedic and introspective manner to reporters about his injuries, his Game 7 struggles, his off-season plans and his love for the game.
The contrast shouldn't really be that surprising. Bryant locks himself into a competitive mode and the aftermath revealed a player content with winning. But those scenes struck me because it made me wonder what would Bryant be like once his basketball career ends. Would he be happy enough with his accomplishments and well enough removed that he'd speak in his Hall of Fame speech with the same infectious enthusiasm he shared during his exit interview? Or would he still hold that competitive spirit and feel the need to prove his dominance in the basketball world once again?
Feel free to provide your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Photo: Kobe Bryant holds the championship trophy during the Lakers' parade through downtown L.A. Credit: Christina House/For The Times.