The Athlete I Hated The Most

There was not an athlete I hated more than Kobe Bryant.

You could have asked me that five years ago or ten. You could have asked me the night LeBron James passed him on the all-time scoring list, just hours before news of his death broke.

You could have asked me ten minutes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski brutally confirmed the TMZ report that the Lakers legend had died in a helicopter crash, a tweet which felt too hard to believe.

You could ask me right now, about a month after his death and on the day a public memorial will be held for him and his daughter Gianna at Staples Center, and the answer is still the same.  The answer will probably never change.

I spent ages five to 10 falling in love with sports and watching Kobe Bryant rip my heart out practically every time the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs.  The Lakers were our kryptonite.  We couldn’t do anything against them.

We couldn’t do anything against Kobe Bryant.

Bryant made me cry multiple times growing up. Despite us defeating them in the first round of the playoffs in 2005-06 and in the second round the next year, Kobe got his revenge in the biggest way in 2010, denying us our final chance at winning the championship or even making the Finals with that core group in 2010.  Game 6 of those Western Conference Finals was the third worst moment of my life.  We’d finally gotten passed the Spurs, sweeping them in the second round. Bryant was the final test.  I just wanted to make the Finals.  Just so Steve Nash could say he had been there before.

Nope.  As expected, Kobe took those early exits earlier in the decade personally, just as he did everything.  He made us pay.

Kobe put up 37 on 12-15 shooting that night in Phoenix.  His stats and overall performance don’t represent how good he was.  It wasn’t like he dropped a 50 burger, or hit a ton of threes (He was 3-8 that night).  He was just really good, and hit four of the toughest shots I’ve seen anyone ever make to continually put Phoenix away.  He made Phoenix suffer that night.  There was nothing we could do.

I hated Kobe Bryant for that game and for his game overall.  He was selfish, didn’t pass, treated his teammates poorly and took incredibley bad shots – shots he knew were bad.  But he didn’t care.

I hated him for his cockiness, for his ridiculous feud with Shaq that split up what could have been the most successful run of all-time, and yes, for the Colorado incident that he seemed to get off of way too easily. It’s something that routinely gets forgotten and is kept quiet by the NBA on purpose. It shouldn’t overshadow Kobe and the family man he eventually came to be, but it needs to be mentioned.

Kobe didn’t let it overshadow his career though, which saw him win five rings, two Finals MVPs, a regular season MVP, become the second best pure bucket-getter of all time, go down as the defining player of the league’s most storied and popular team and finish as the ninth best player of all-time.  He was the player of the generation between Michael Jordan and LeBron. Guys that were too young to be MJ guys followed Kobe because LeBron wasn’t there and ready for that yet.

I hated Kobe Bryant the most though because of what he continually did to my Suns, in the playoffs or not. It was the Lakers that got the glory. It was the Lakers who were successful and actually won. It was them who Phoenix aspired to be and beat. We couldn’t because we couldn’t beat Kobe. We couldn’t because we didn’t have Kobe, or anyone nearly as good him. Not even close.

Sports are about competition though. Sports aren’t fun when blowouts occur – when one team is so much better than the other. Good games are never not close. It’s the heat of competition that gets us going so much over what’s happening in front of our eyes or on our TV screens.

When your side of that competition loses, it can be heartbreaking. It was for me multiple times.

But perhaps then, and even still now, I lost sight of what was truly happening in those Nash-Kobe duels. It was competition. At the highest level possible. That was as good as it got.

Those games wouldn’t have been fun with the Lakers kicked Phoenix’s butt. They honestly wouldn’t have been as much fun if Phoenix kicked the Lakers butt. Those games were fun because those type of games almost never happened. Both teams were too good.

It would have been nice for the Suns to win those games sometimes. They hardly did, it felt like. But I almost would rather have it the way it played out than have the Suns destroy the Lakers every time. Those games taught me how to love sports, and how to hate them too. They built good discipline for me. They taught me how to truly appreciate the game of basketball.

I’ve always said that the day I meet Steve Nash for the first time, the first thing I would tell Nash is “Thank you for making me fall in love with basketball.”

Kobe’s death made me realize that I should probably be thanking him too.

NBA Trade Deadline PODCAST And Notes

After the wild NBA Trade Deadline had past, my good friend Nick Sanchez invited me on his podcast Loose Balls to discuss the biggest deals of the week.  We covered the D’Angelo Russell, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond trades the most, but there are a couple we didn’t get too that I’d like to give some thoughts on.  Below the podcast are some notes on those.

As always, this podcast is distributed by Arizona State University’s Blaze Radio.

Now for notes on some of the other deals from the past week:

  • We did a couple minutes on the massive four team, 12 player trade (The biggest since Patrick Ewing’s trade in 2000) that went down early last week at the end of the show, but I wanted to expand a bit on it here.
  • The Hawks trade for Clint Capela kind of goes hand-in-hand with their deal for DeWayne Dedmon.
  • Two things are at play here: 1) Atlanta’s need for a center since John Collins – who’s very talented and versatile offensively – is a black hole defensively and can’t protect the rim whatsoever and 2) their need to surround their darling Trae Young with “help”, as he proclaimed earlier this season.
  • These deals for Capela and Dedmon do both.  Both Capela and Dedmon are great rim protectors, with Dedmon bringing shooting and a bit more switchability to the table.  They also are both legitimate NBA players as opposed to 20 year olds, which will keep Young happy.  It’s Atlanta worst nightmare to have him not be so.
  • The Hawks didn’t have to give much up.  They got two second round picks to bring Dedmon in, and shipped out reclamation project Jabari Parker and Alex Len in the deal.  Len was great last year for Atlanta but has seen his shooting numbers drop dramatically this season.
  • For Capela, all it took was a shipping out of Evan Turner, the Nets first round pick in 2020 which they owned from a prior deal and a second rounder.  Not a bad price to acquire a rim-running/protecting center and revitalize the position on your roster!
  • I really liked the four-teamer for Houston despite some of the criticism it drew.  While Capela is an excellent rim protector, his lack of switchability onto perimeter players made him at times unplayable in the playoffs last year, especially against Golden State.
  • Houston has had success with playing PJ Tucker at center in the past, so turning Capela into Robert Covington – a fantastic defensive player who can shoot enough (He hit what looked like a game-winning three last night) works even though it’s super small.  It maximizes a Rockets roster that probably wouldn’t be playing Capela anyways come April and May.  Instead of Daniel House out there for him, it’s now Covington.
  • The issue that remains is that they now have zero size whatsoever.  You can go small late, but you still need at least a big to start games and play intermittently.  They got Jordan Bell from the Wolves in the four teamer, but later flipped him to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo, who should be whatever Fran Frischilla thought he’d be by now.
  • It appears that Houston will probably wait for the buyout market to form to find a big, because Isaiah Hartenstein won’t cut it, and Tyson Chandler is the epitome of what Houston doesn’t want in a center.
  • Houston essentially gave up Capela, Nene (who was waived by Atlanta), a first round pick and Gerald Green for Covington and a second round pick, which is a lot but feels much better than giving up two first round picks.
  • Even though Minnesota made out very nicely with D’Angelo Russell, their end of this deal confused me a bit.
  • The top asset they received in the trade was Malik Beasley, who’s a restricted free agent.  Sure, trading for him now gives the Timberwolves his  matching rights come July 1, but it seemed unlikely that Denver would match whatever it was as Beasley’s been in and out of the Nuggets’ rotation this year.
  • Essentially, they sold Covington for a guy they could have easily attained over the summer.  Sure, they got more pieces back – a first round pick, Juancho Hernangomez (Also a RFA, but Minnesota might’ve faced more competition from Denver when matching him than Beasley), Jarred Vanderbilt and Evan Turner’s contract – but Vanderbilt is a flyer, Turner is an albatross and Hernangomez is in a similar situation to Beasley contract wise.
  • Why not try and turn Beasley into a more controllable player or another pick, especially when Covington was one of the most valued commodities on the market?
  • I liked the four team trade for everyone but the Timberwolves.  But they certainly made up for it with the Russell trade later in the week.  As a whole, Russell-KAT-Beasley make up three pretty good pieces in a rotation.
  • Denver made out very well in this deal.  They netted a first round pick for a guy who they weren’t bringing back (Beasley), an eighth man (Hernangomez), and a guy who didn’t work out (Vanderbilt).  In addition, they brought in a couple flyers/deep bench pieces: Shabazz Naiper (who was flipped for Jordan McRae), Keita Bates Diop (He might be really really good in Denver’s scheme), Gerald Green and Noah Vonleh.
  • I thought Philadelphia massively overpaid for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.  Practically no trade for bench help has worked out for the Sixers.  Paying three second round picks for Robinson (who’s probably out of NBA chances now) and Burks (Who’s…. fine?) seems heavy.