Kobe Bryant defends LeBron James -- but does the King deserve it?
There's a large segment of this blogosphere that believes Kobe Bryant can do no wrong.
If he misfires on a huge volume of shots, it's because he had no choice to shoot because none of his teammates played well. If he doesn't pass the ball inside, it's because Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum weren't getting open enough. And even if there's well-reasoned analysis on how injuries and basketball mileage have taken a toll on his body, well, those media members and journalists are just haters.
But even Bryant's most passionate supporters won't like to hear this. He's telling everyone, including you, to stop criticizing LeBron James.
"I think people need to lay off that kid, that's what I think," Bryant said in an interview with ESPN. "I've gotten to know him pretty well, playing with the Olympic team, and I think they just need to back off him and just let him play and let him live his life and let him make his decisions and let him mature as a player."
Only in this media culture can James suddenly become a sympathetic figure.
Look: I don't fault Bryant for defending him in a very specific sense. With the 24/7 news cycle that we live in, it was a sure sign of the times that James' disappearing act in the NBA Finals against Dallas suddenly made everyone forget that he was extraordinary in every facet of the game in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Expecting Miami to leapfrog into the NBA Finals after assembling the Super Team proved unrealistic, because Dwyane Wade, James and Chris Bosh only played together for one season. And everyone's hatred toward the Heat reflected poorly on society's glee in watching people fail.
But to suggest James doesn't deserve any of this scrutiny is ridiculous.
James had every right to leave Cleveland, particularly after the franchise appeared to be making little effort in assembling talent around him. But announcing his free agency intentions through a one-hour special on ESPN was both narcissistic and self-serving, and it made James appear to go out of his way to spit in the city of Cleveland's face, all hid under the cynical touting that this special benefited the Boys & Girls Club.
James may have also felt the constant pressure and the 24/7 state of the Heat analysis proved too reactionary and contradictory. But he invited that himself when he boasted in a hastily arranged pep rally that the Heat were going to win "multiple championships."
"It's tough to be under the microscope like that all the time," Bryant said. "So, I would like everybody to just back off of him and just let him play."
But that's exactly the point. Unlike Bryant, James couldn't handle that pressure, whether it was fair or unfair. Hence, the ongoing criticism. As much as he believes fans should just "back off" from scrutinizing the King, Bryant knows fairly well that the biggest cure in minimizing that attention points to one thing and one thing only: winning.
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, left, LeBron James. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times