When you’re Jellybean Joe’s kid, you have the crossover down before you can perfect swirly caps in cursive. At least that’s the way we think of Kobe Bryant. Our man Kobe spent a chunk of childhood in central Italy, watching Sr. Bean gel with Rieti’s hoops clubs. We forget a whole lot of it after that.
For an egoist, there aren’t any decent Kobe bios out there. Not in print. We assume the big tell-all is forthcoming, because Shaq has a growing list of memoirs and how-tos out there. And we know how Kobe hates Shaq.
Or at least we think we do. Kobe’s world is an uncertain world for us because, (A) it is easy to rewrite history when you own the ear of ESPN and Twitter, and (B) we don’t rip apart our athletes until they retire. The world is in love with Kobe and Kobe is in love with himself.
It is an almost satanic self-devotion that borders upon comic self-promotion when Kobe hobbles into a courtside seat as fans boo a departing (and no friend of Kobe’s) Dwight Howard. And Kobe tweets during games that he is not playing in because he cannot stand for us to forget just how much Kobe adores Kobe.
Now as much as Kobe gets a pass by American culture, Satan gets tossed under the bus. You’ve got similar egos, comparable agendas, and that same distaste for a former teammate who – if history is any indicator – will always be held fonder in the heart.
Satan curses God much as Kobe quietly disdains Shaq. I can’t understand why anybody really cares outside of Lakers Nation, but this inability to shred Kobe’s open narcissism is downright priggish.
Lest we compare Shaq to God, let’s step back for a minute – as if we’re pondering a buzzer-beating three. Shaq portrayed a genie in a bad movie, missed 473 free throws in one season alone (2000-01), and was injured (fictitiously) by Larry David and tried to convince us he is a “Seinfeld” fan. We’re not buying that, because Shaq never really sold it well.
Twitter-wise, here’s the stats: Shaq has more than 6,000 tweets, Kobe sits under 500. Shaq has enough followers to populate every loft in New York City’s five boroughs, Kobe can only rent out Atlanta.
Lest we compare Twitter to something that matters, let’s call Kobe out for what he is: a man who loves what he sees – in the mirror.
Howard Cosell tried to educate us by quipping: “What's right isn't always popular. What's popular isn't always right.”
Cosell helped popularize one of sports’ most self-promotional stars of all time: Ali. But Ali did things for a larger purpose, such as promoting an end to racial bigotry in American and pacifist ideology in Vietnam. But it’s the rope-a-dope we’ll remember. And those glossy off-white/silver trunks.
Which brings us to Jason Collins, a career backup who most of us had never heard of until around lunchtime on April 29, Reggie Miller’s forty-eighth birthday. Collins became pro sports’ first player in a marquee league to come out as gay. He didn’t tweet it. He didn’t limp to a folding chair and hand a note to TNT’s Craig Sheffer, didn’t call in to a sports radio talk show, and he definitely didn’t let shouting broadcasters relay the news to us.
He spoke for himself. He took the charge right in the lane, knowing America’s rising conservative culture was bearing down on him, and there would be a whistle. What Collins couldn’t know is which way the call would go. He took a steep risk. And we know he took it for others beyond the face he sees in the mirror each morning.
Kobe’s future bio should tell us that he once called a ref a fag. But it won’t. It will tell us that Kobe “Bean” Bryant was awesome, more awesome even than Shaq.
Collins’ real-life bio started April 29, 2013. It will contain some ugly facts and some beautiful passages about how people stepped up to assist those who are denied human rights and dignity. Now there’s a man we should respect and tweet about, hospitably.
But we all know who will be mugging on televisions for eternity, doing that silly snake-face after nailing a clutch jumper. So be it. I’m sure Shaq likes Jason Collins better anyway.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services