By Leighton Ginn
When looking back on covering Kobe Bryant, I think it taught me a very valuable lesson on being cautious of my preconceived notions of an athlete.
I got to cover Bryant during the 2000-02 championship seasons he had with Shaquille O’Neal.
I had thought Bryant was a petulant kid who felt entitled. I thought he didn’t really grasp what an ideal situation he was in playing for one of the best franchises in all sports, alongside one of the most dominating presence the NBA had ever seen in Shaquille O’Neal and under the best coach in Phil Jackson.
I felt if Bryant was with any other team, he would be like Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady: great players but not championship players because his skillset was similar to those players.
I’m not sure that really changed much. But I began to see how it fueled Bryant to reach great heights in his career. I began to admire and appreciate how it fueled him, and how he strived for heights that I thought were out of his reach. If you don’t capture the moon, you can at least find yourself among the stars.
And dealing with Bryant was really good.
Bryant was among one of the most professional athletes I had to deal with. He took time to answer questions and stayed late after games to fulfill that obligation as teammates left earlier.
And he had a good sense of humor about many of the questions. I remember one year they were swept by one of the worst teams in the league that year, and Bryant’s reply was along the lines of it’s no big deal because they’re used to losing to s***y teams.
It was weird because when I covered the team, I liked Bryant because he was professional and personable.
I stopped covering the team soon after the 2002 season, and Bryant went through a lot of things, and he appeared to be a much different person.
There was the incident in Colorado and the messy divorce with O’Neal.
With the media, Bryant has been more surly. All day, various reporters on ESPN have spoken about some of their difficulties dealing with Bryant.
I try not to think too much about it because I hadn’t covered the team for so long.
But Bryant proved his greatness with his two more NBA titles without O’Neal, as well as many personal accolades.
In the last few years, Bryant has handcuffed the Lakers with his large contract. But it’s a deal the Lakers made, and I think it was the right decision.
And it’s been funny to see the role reversal. Bryant was the petulant kid, and now he’s the veteran who flashes dirty looks at the antics of his much younger teammates.
I’ve been a lifelong NBA fan, and there have been players who I liked the moment I saw them, and it remained that way throughout their careers, players like Dr. J and Michael Jordan.
Bryant was more complex, but he was real. And I appreciate him as much as anyone who has ever played in the NBA.