Is one of the greatest basketball players of all time one of the biggest deterrents of all time? Over Kobe Bryant's epic career, many have struggled to play with him. With being so talented, of course people are going to be intimidated, whether they have on the same jersey or not.
Dating back to 1996 when Bryant first came into the league, he was not the most favored. He was the first guard drafted out of high school and people wanted to know why he was considered the "chosen one." They wanted to know what type of impact he could have at such a young age. He showed them and it only took four seasons.
Kobe was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers from the Charlotte Hornets for center Vlade Divac and he was teamed up with All-Star center and then ring-less center, Shaquille O'Neal. O'neal, who had already made a name for himself in the league, was ready to win a championship, after losing in the 1995 NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic. The Lakers won the 2000 NBA Finals, their first championship since 1988. Although the fans saw the success of these two superstars on the court, they were not shown the feud between the two off the court.
While Shaq had more experience than Kobe, he felt that the team should have been his and that he should be the primary option on offense. Up until the 2000 playoffs, O'Neal was running things on the team. Kobe started playing more minutes and started getting the ball more and more. O'Neal expressed his feelings saying, "Kobe is playing too selfishly for us to win." Despite the fact that Kobe was playing more for himself, they were still winning games. The Lakers went on to win the next two championships (2001, 2002) and the conflict between Kobe and Shaq died down, until 2004.
The Lakers had a great season, making it all the way to the NBA Finals and were destroyed by the Detroit Pistons in five games. After the season, both Bryant and O'Neal were free agents. O'Neal expressed that if Kobe was to resign, he wanted out. And it came to pass, that legacy was over.
In 2012, Kobe Bryant helped bring in two All Stars to the team, point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard. With these additions to the Lakers, they were expected to compete for the NBA Championship. From then on, things went downhill. The team chemistry was low. They struggled to make the playoffs and were swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. The root of the problem? Kobe and Dwight.
Dwight Howard, who seemed excited to join the Lakers, had a hard time fitting in. Coming from the Orlando Magic where he was the star, he had to learn that he was playing with one of the greatest to ever touch a basketball. So of course, he struggled to demote himself. Following the Lakers' New Year's Day loss to the 76ers, Howard had to be restrained from going after Bryant after the two engaged in a heated exchange. Bryant alleged called him soft and added other hurtful comments. Howard could not stand the heat, so he got out of the kitchen.
Howard left the Lakers the following off-season and joined the Houston Rockets. In a regular season match between the Lakers and the Rockets in 2014, Dwight started throwing elbows while getting a rebound and Kobe simply called him "soft." He also called him a few more explicit names that he later apologized for. In 2015, while Kobe was being interviewed, he shared how it was playing with Dwight Howard:
"I tried teaching Dwight. I tried showing him. But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship - and most perceptions of what it's like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you're friends all the time. That's the perception. And I think that's what his perception was of what the idea is. But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it's very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge. And I don't think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature."
Kobe Bryant has single-handedly driven away two great centers by just being himself. In this years free agency, the Lakers tried to lure in All Star forward Lamarcus Aldridge. During the first meeting that Aldridge had with the Lakers, Kobe was reportedly there to help sway Aldridge's decision. After Aldridge confirmed that he was not going to sign with the Lakers, many blamed Kobe for not landing the big man. Social media took it to another level and made joking memes such as:
Bryant replied to the comments with his own tweet:
Kobe has five NBA Championships. He is a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. But what would have happened for the Lakers if a few good big men, stayed? We will never know.