by J. MesaÂ
In every offseason in virtually every sport, we hear over-paid and over-hyped athletes demanding to be traded. This past summer none whined louder and stomped his feet harder than Los Angeles Lakesâ€™ superstar Kobe Bryant. From having to endure listening to him demand to be traded on every sports radio show to every ESPN offseason NBA report, the annual â€œKobe is unhappy and wants to be tradedâ€ shtick had gotten to be old hat â€“ the same song drilled in our heads over and over like a bad American Idol tune.
Bravo to the Lakers brass that denied Kobe the trade he so demanded (I have it on good authority that Bryant actually held his breath and turned purple when making his demand to be traded).Â So then, what to make of this turnaround from â€œtrade me nowâ€ to NBA MVP and now Finals participant? When did the Black Mamba decide he was going to rise above the pettiness and carry this Lakers team to one of the best regular season finishes and a NBA MVP award?
Kobe assumed â€“ dare I say â€“ a leadership role anchoring the Lake show as they plowed through the defenseless Nuggets, toppled the Jazz on their own floor to now accepting the changing of the old guard (San Antonio), to bring the Lakers back to ye olde days of Showtime basketball.
The theft of Pao Gasol and his suiting-up for LA certainly helped, but Kobeâ€™s turnaround goes deeper than that. There comes a time in almost every elite athleteâ€™s career where money, fame, cars, etc. ceases to matter, ceases to be a motivating factor. In place of all that fluff is the intense desire for one thing and one thing only â€“ to be a champion. Bryant reached that point this season.
After being dogged for so many years for not being able to win a title without Shaq and seeing Oâ€™Neal win another championship in Miami without Bryant served as motivation, an almost direct challenge that put his career in perspective. If Kobe wanted to be considered among the greatest of all time he needed to find a way to win this year â€“ and he did.
So as we are beginning to formulate our NBA picks for the Finals, what will happen this offseason if the Lakers fail to bring the championship trophy back La-La land? What if the Association gets its way and the Lakers and the Celtics meet in the Finals and Boston wins the series? Will Kobe up to his old Jordin Sparks song-and-dance routine and demand another trade this offseason? This may come as a shock to some, but I think the curtain has closed on such antics. If the Lakers donâ€™t win the big one, I think Bryant accepts responsibility for the loss learns from it and uses it as motivation for next season.
We have just witnessed the changing of the guard as the Lakers supplanted the Spurs as the team to beat in the west, but the change that will have more of an impact is the change from ye olde Kobe to a more mature, on-the-court leader that will eventually be included as one of the all-time greats.