Kobe Bryant voted most popular player among NBA rookies
For too long, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had resisted the urge to be Shaquille O'Neal's sidekick. For too long, it seemed, Bryant tried to perform every task with his talent and work ethic. And for too long, Bryant had long wondered whether he'd have the support around him.
The Lakers' 2009 title run illustrated that theme, with much of the talk centering on Kobe winning his first ring without Shaq, improving his relationship with teammates and accepting that sometimes less is more. That prompted Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to share with the press corps a conversation he and Bryant had earlier in his career a night after a one-on-one matchup with then-Toronto forward Vince Carter.
"I talked to him a little bit about leadership and the quality and his ability to be a leader, and he said, 'I'm ready to be a captain right now.'" Jackson told reporters. And I said, 'But no one is ready to follow you.'
"In those eight years that have ensued from that period, he's learned how to become a leader in a way in which people want to follow him, and I think that's really important for him to have learned that, because he knew that he had to give to get back in return. And so he's become a giver rather than just a guy that's a demanding leader, and that's been great for him and great to watch."
That's why it's only fitting that the plurality of NBA rookies voted Bryant as their favorite player. For someone who supposedly doesn't have many friends in the league, the disparity is even more eye-opening. Sure, LeBron James trails second in the preseason survey, but the percentages show a large split. Consider that 38.2% of rookies voted for Bryant, 10.5% chose James and 7.5% selected Carmelo Anthony.
Q scores aside, it's fashionable to root for Bryant these days over James, what with Bryant winning his second consecutive title and James hosting "The Decision." Although I criticized the process James employed and believe he diminished his status among the league's elite, I also agree with what Bryant shared with Derek Fisher on The Jim Rome Show: "He's a different person than I am. You can take that as a positive or negative of mine, but I'm stubborn as a mule. It cuts both ways." Obviously Bryant's taking the less controversial and diplomatic route, but he has a point. It wasn't too long ago that public opinion favored James and how he made everything fun and criticized Bryant for how intense and demanding he is on the court.
Winning changes that perception, including rookie survey results. But at least it confirms what Jackson mentioned after the 2009 NBA Finals: Bryant has proven through his talent and work ethic that others should follow his lead, and there are plenty, including his teammates, who are happy to do so.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was voted the most popular player among NBA rookies Credit: Robert Gauthier/LAT