Is Kobe Bryant Treated Fairly in the Media?

This started out as a piece titled "What’s wrong with Kobe Bryant?" that you can find here. After writing it, I figured that soliciting opinions on Kobe would be an interesting way to gauge just how polarizing a figure he is.

For years Kobe Bryant has been the most polarizing figure in the NBA. One faction believes he is perhaps the greatest player to ever hit the NBA hardwood whereas another group feels as though Kobe is completely overrated. The irony of this debate is that both groups will look at how the media covers the Mamba to validate their arguments. Hence, it’s only fair to get the arguments from both sides and try to at least understand the various opinions.

I posted the question on Twitter and also asked some basketball fans on ESPN’s Daily Dime live chat to send in their thoughts. These are their answers:

-Nicholas Robert Pacitti; Foxboro, Massachusetts: I think the media's coverage of Kobe Bryant is very fair. If anything I think the media shines Kobe in a rose colored light on some occasions. Nobody ever brings up the alleged incident in Colorado or the fact that he is not the world's best teammate. This is the same way Michael Jordan was treated no one brought up Michael's major gambling problem or the fact that at a time he was the most difficult teammate to have in the NBA. They have one thing in common the both have won and the winning heals all wounds in the public eye.

-Ryan Johnston; Starkville, Mississippi: Kobe is unfairly covered in the media for a number of reasons.  First of all, he plays for the Lakers, which is the team that everybody loves to hate.  Additionally, not everything from his past has been forgotten.  However the biggest reason that Kobe is unfairly covered by the media is excitement, or lack there of.  Kobe isn't young, isn't new, and at this point in his career he is no longer a human highlight reel.  Kobe is just a great player who wins, and that consistency just doesn't have the "buzz factor" around it that is needed to sell papers.

-Adam Shlomi; Miami, Florida: Kobe is very good but there will always be someone better. Here’s the thing with Kobe if you ask one player what they want here’s the response

LeBron: love
Jordan: not to lose
Russel: win
Vince: money
Nash: a new owner
Magic: win
Bird: win
Wilt: stats
Isiah: win
Kobe: to be great

That’s why Kobe never will be great, he cares about being great, not winning that’s why he had his 1vs5 season because it was another thing on his resume so that’s my take on Kobe. He doesn’t deserve the MVP's he has because there will always be someone better; the man is good however he will never be great. He’s winning rings because it adds to his legacy but when my kids ask about Kobe Bryant i will tell them he milked every drop of talent he had but he did it for the wrong reason

i wrote an article when we where questioning Kobe’s clutch might have some insight

-Jonathan Wells II; Santa Barbara, California: For me the treatment of Kobe by the media has fluctuated as his career has come along. The current 2011 Kobe has a respect and admiration among the media that 2005-2006 Kobe didn't have. Even when 2011 Kobe shows flashes of his old self (trying to force shots and get out of the Triangle) he still doesn't get the criticism that I think other superstars get by ESPN.  I think a good example is when LeBron couldn't hit the shots down the stretch during Miami's epic losing streak, he was hammered! Then when the Heat played the Lakers, Kobe hoisted some terrible shots and all that was really talked about was how Kobe stayed hours after to shoot baskets. Being the huge Laker fan that I am it really is wild to see how far he has come from the Shaq drama and the rape trial.

-Cole LeBron; Omaha, Nebraska:  FIRST OF ALL, he is treated fair for being so arrogant when talking to the media. And he was accused of Rape which i think he did but got away with it do you think he did it?

Kobe is treated fair because he says very arrogant things to the media. Like when he said he was the best 1on1 player and his attitude is bad especially after losses. Also, I've noticed he cusses a lot which doesn't help his image.

-Hector Lin; Parts Unknown: Kobe is treated fairly for the most part. The media tends to point out his shortcomings while also pointing out he is the best player overall in the last 10-12 years. The only thing people complain about is that they judge him on his past statistics against him. Where he constantly averages 25 to 27 points a game with 5 rebs and 5 assists they see how he did things more effectively in the 05-08 seasons while putting up better numbers so in their eyes he has "regressed". If not for that he would have at least one more MVP.

-James Holas; San Diego, California: Kobe came into the league as a brash, talented kid with a million dollar smile 14 years ago, playing for one of the premiere franchises in the NBA. From the moment he refused to play for the Charlotte Hornets, the team that drafted him, Kobe has demanded the media's eye, for better and worst. The media isn't some conspiracy driven machine; it's a funhouse mirror.

It may distort, it may expand and magnify, but the bottom line is that it reflects what it sees. Kobe has been lauded for his breathtaking play, he's been vilified for the rape allegations and the ham-fisted handling of his "trade demands", he's been worshipped for his "clutchness", and more recently, he's been dismantled for his non-clutchness and lambasted for being selfish.
I for one think that the media has been particularly gentle with Kobe, glossing over his negative points and exaggerating his attributes. "Fair" is a subjective term, but yeah, I definitely think the media is fair with Kobe. In the search for the "next" Mike Jordan, I actually think he's been given a pass somewhat. Quit on his team against Phoenix? Called "selfish" by his Hall of Fame coach? Demand a trade while slandering Bynum (..."Bynum for Jason Kidd?? TRADE his @$$!!")? Not only get accused of sexual misconduct, but go against every guy/teammate code by dry-snitching about alleged Shaq misdoings? Get closed out in a Finals by 39? 6-24 in game 7? Yet some in the media are already ramping up the "if Kobe' wins one more, is he the best ever?" talk.

Sure, there are some writers and bloggers who, in their view, look at him objectively and critique his game, and there are some out-and-out haters of him, but for the most part, Kobe's foibles are largely overlooked because he's a legendary basketball player.  As one of the best players in the NBA on an upper echelon team, media attention is going to be there, and for most of that attention to be about his chase for another ring and celebrating his toughness and talents, I have to say Kobe's been treated more than fairly.

-Ethan; San Antonio, Texas: I feel like Kobe's a little overrated by the media. He's LEAD a team to a championship 2 with a stacked team and he rode Shaq’s back to another 3. He tries too hard to be the best and he thinks it's OK because his roster bails him out. But the media just counts the rings and Kobe only cares about that too.

-Dom Northcutt, Parts Unknown: I believe Kobe can't be seen as poorly represented by the media, the only people I ever see trashing him are fans and who cares about them? Also, if this is anything about MVP he doesn't deserve it, he is playing his game, but it doesn't seem to be as important to the Lakers winning this year, Pau Gasol and LAMAR ODOM (maybe not Lamar) seem to be just important in making the Lakers a bi-winning (CHARLIE SHEEN) team.

-Ben Appley, New Zealand: I think the coverage in the media of Kobe is pretty fair. Obviously living in New Zealand i miss out on a lot of things you guys have coverage to in that part of the world but from what i read on ESPN I'm led to believe he is treated reasonably fairly.. Even this year with the Heat and Bulls being talked about more than him and his Lakers, i think he really enjoys that. He enjoys being the "underdog" and coming into the playoffs not thought of as the best in the game anymore and I'm sure he will be hungry to show people otherwise.

I think the thing with Kobe is you either love him or you hate him. You're either a LeBron guy, or you're a Kobe game. Personally im a 'Bron guy but i think most Bron fans would still admit Kobe definitely ranks top 5 of all time. The guy is just so tough and hard to phase and honestly in my opinion one of the greats.
-Marcos Almaguer; Montreal, Quebec: Multiple NBA championships, scoring champ, dunk contest champ, coached by Phil Jackson, had a HOF teammate, off-field issues, competitive maniac, not a great teammate, who is this player?

You named Kobe Bryant? Or maybe Michael Jordan? Both of them are described by the characteristics above; main difference between the two? Public opinion. Whilst everybody in the media praised Michael Jordan, even amidst his gambling problems and his not so thankful HOF acceptance speech, Kobe is a lot more polarizing. You are either a Kobe lover or a Kobe hater, there seems to be no in-between. But why? Maybe Kobe was too much of an immature little brat. Maybe his off-field issues were more morally sensitive. Maybe he looked for his shot too much. Maybe he was too much of a jerk. Maybe he was too good for too long so we took him for granted. Or maybe, just maybe, he was too much like MJ but not as good as him.

Kyle Hoegh, Parts Unknown: First of all, I'll define fair or unfair as fair being properly or overrated, and unfair being underrated.  I think Kobe is the most polarizing player in terms of how people rate him.  I believe he was more underrated than any other player when he was an offensive rebound and Tim Thomas 3-pointer from a deep playoff run with the likes of Smush, Walton, and Kwame starting along side him (where are they now?).  Remember he was getting killed in that part of his career and specifically that series for shooting too much when his shooting was the only thing keeping them in those games, and in the playoffs at all.  An argument could be made now that he is overrated by traditional mainstream media with his 5 championships due to the fact he had great teammates in each, although this mainstream overrating seems to make a lot of mainstream bloggers go the other way to the point where he is underrated again. 

Anyway, I'd like to relate him to the compression (positive) and rarefaction (negative) of a sinusoidal wave propagating in an elastic medium.  Throughout the process the kinetic energy (earned praise) is going to equal the potential energy (unearned praise) even though it is skewed one way from time to time, with the process is in equipartition in the end (in the end he is properly rated).  However, if I was forced to choose a side, I'd go with underrated, because his effort and dedication to Basketball (in practice, training, fighting off injuries, etc.) is from all accounts unquestionable.  In this era of AAU phenoms and global icons that type of dedication seems to be more valuable than ever and can rub off on his teammates to demand similar dedication.  This type of impact is possibly overlooked a little too much in my opinion so I'll say underrated slightly (i.e. unfair slightly).

George Smart; Parts Unknown: J. M., I believe Kobe is lionized by the media when it comes to being compared against anyone, except MJ and i think that this is would be the final nail in the coffin for anyone not named Michael Jordan to ever be the best basketball player of all-time. No other sport has it to where their greatest player has no rival or equal in his sport's history, and i think that the media's complete disregard of the rest of basketball history, distant and recent, is appalling.

Kobe is a ring away from equaling a guy who had 6 rings in an inferior time period, with the player who made his life easier than any secondary superstar ever has (Scottie), but since he won with someone who he was predisposed to clashing with (Shaq and his never serious nature), played with more pressure than Michael ever did (the next mike hype, and post shaq-rape allegation), and had lesser statistics due to many things that happened out of his control (Shaq's shot gobbling, his stint playing on those 2004-2007'ish Lakers where they basically trotted out a D-League team featuring Kobe). The fact he started playing at 17, and never quit or retired, unlike mike who got plenty of rest during his baseball stint, and played at a 98% as good level, should atl east put him in the same room as Jordan. The fact that Kobe is going to get and (at the expense of Durant and...Lebron) is already getting ticks me off.

-Nicholas G. Trebelhorn; Portland, Oregon: I needed something to do instead of watching your Warriors destroy my Blazers so here goes:

Is Kobe treated fairly by the media? You could probably write a doctoral dissertation on the subject. Public opinion on Kobe ranges from KOBE RUELZ!!!!11!!!1! all the way to KOBE SUX!!11!!!!!!!1!! I'll spare you the dissertation and look at one incident: Game 7 in 2006. Kobe got a lot of grief in the immediate aftermath after only taking 3 shots in the 2nd half. Did he quit? Was he deferring to teammates like some in the media had said he should do? Did Kobe's hesitancy not matter as much as other factors (read: the Suns playing really well)? In the immediate aftermath the quitter theory seemed to be the chic explanation. I would argue that this is a reflection of the mentality that, in the heat of battle we like heroes and villains. Our color palate is black and white, shades of gray are to be avoided. As time went on many more people looked back and concluded that the latter explanations I gave earlier were the case. In this respect I think Kobe was treated fairly. In time we got both sides of the argument and, as it should be, the reader was left to decide for themselves.

The reason this situation came to mind was LeBron's performance against the Celts in last year's playoffs. LeBron also got the quitter tag in the immediate aftermath. The question is whether he will get the same retroactive treatment as Kobe. Will there be apologists for him? Did "The Decision" permanently taint his legacy? We won't know if he gets the same treatment as Kobe for another 3 or 4 years, so maybe we can't fully answer this question until then.

J. M.: In the end, no matter what side of the debate that you’re on, there isn’t answer or opinion that outweighs all others. There are so many voices willing to share their opinions one way or another that it often is hard to not become a Kobe apologist or Kobe detractor. I find a way to remain in the middle but it seems to get tougher with every debate on the Black Mamba. Ultimately Marco said it best, perhaps if we stopped judging Kobe Bryant in comparison to Michael Jordan we could fully appreciate his exploits, but then again to recognize greatness, you have to measure it up against just that….greatness.

I’m not sure we will ever have a definitive answer on where to properly situate the Lakers stars in the pantheon of legends; but one thing’s for sure: the debates, conversations and articles written about Bryant will only serve to enhance his legacy and remind a younger generation of just how great he was. In an odd twist of fate, I just helped.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name @ShyneIV.