I want to make a small point about Kobe Bryant.
And I want to be careful.
As a general rule of argument, it’s best to keep your parameters tight, to speak precisely so dissenters can’t confuse the issue with irrelevant counterpoints.
When it comes to opinions about Bryant (especially ones that could be construed as criticisms), it’s even more important to keep things narrow. Kobe’s army of irrational fanboys is larger, more emotional and wound tighter than most. They’re the ones who respond to objective criticisms of Bryant’s poor accuracy from the field with “Ringzzzzz” or “GOAT” or, you know, whatever. They usually do this while threatening to fight you somewhere in the Inland Empire or making unseemly assertions about your family’s hygiene. It’s hard to keep them on topic, is what I’m saying.
So this will be a small point.
Bryant, when asked by Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears if the potential payday he’d see as a free agent next summer would have an impact on continuing his career, replied:
“Zero. Zero. I’ve never played for the money. It’s never moved me. Money can come and go. I have a perspective about finances. The family is fine. What is more money going to bring other than more money?”
It’s worth noting that he says this just before expounding (with loads of empty business-y buzzwords) on his growing and lucrative business ventures in China.
Anyway, are you ready for the small point?
Here goes: The money is important to Kobe.
I’ll pause while you collect yourself…Recovered? Great.
He absolutely has played for the money. Contrary to what he says, it does move him.
We know that because he’s told us so before, like when he said in a Fox Sports Live interview that one of the keys to his most recent contract was the fact that it assured he’d be the NBA’s highest-paid player.
He’s occupied that status, by the way, for the last six seasons. He’ll extend the streak to seven in 2015-16.
And we know that because Bryant’s insistence on making more money than any other player has done substantial damage to his team’s chances of winning. For someone who cares as much about success as he does (nobody disputes that about Bryant; dude is obsessed with winning), it’s no small thing to sign a contract that, by his own admission, made it harder for the Lakers to surround him with the talent that would’ve helped him win.
An excerpt from a 2013 interview Bryant did with Rachel Nichols of CNN:
Nichols: And you will still, as a team, have cap room to sign one more player, even with this new deal. But look, you do take up space with this contract. And if you took up a little less space, then you’d be able to sign more players.
This is where it’s tempting to branch off into a tangent about how Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki deserve praise for taking less money, about how Bryant is selfish. But that’s not where we’re going. I’m not even sure it’s fair to celebrate players who sacrifice money, and Bryant certainly doesn’t deserve criticism for getting as much as he can.
He’s long decried the unfairness of players being expected to take less money for the betterment of the team, and he’s completely correct on that point. Players should seek out as much money as they possibly can, just like anybody else in any other business. Their owners do that, and nobody finds it at all strange.
You could call Duncan and Nowitzki suckers as easily as you could call them stand-up guys.
The distinction here, though, is that Bryant cannot reasonably expect people to believe him when he says money isn’t a factor for him. It is.
When Duncan and Nowitzki talk about wanting to win more than anything else, they don’t act in a contradictory way. They take less money so they can win.
Again, they’re not heroes for doing that. They’re just consistent.
Bryant isn’t. Maybe that bothers you, and maybe it doesn’t.
This is a small point, but it’s one we should keep in mind when we talk about Bryant.