In the eyes of NBA players, Kobe Bryant is almost universally respected. The outpouring of adoration and tribute on Instagram and twitter from all over the league (other than Dwight Howard) should tell you that alone. Hell, even the Denver Nuggets own Jusuf Nurkic cites Kobe as his favorite NBA player growing up and his inspiration. This of course lead to the jumble of rushed shots and nerves when Juka played against the Lakers in the preseason of his rookie year.
On the other side you have the media which sees every bit of Kobe's warts. We look at Kobe and his ghastly shooting percentages this year and his unwillingness to stop shooting as a sad end to a complicated (albeit glory-filled) career. His last three season all ended due to injury. His last truly "good" season was likely during Mike Brown's solitary season as head coach. His feud with Shaq. His problems with Phil Jackson. Last but very much certainly not least his incident in Eagle, Colorado left him the most unpopular athlete to ever come through Colorado for the last 10 years of his career.
To say that Kobe is a complicated figure to probably putting it nicely.
Kevin Durant, speaking twice in one day talked about how we in the media have covered Kobe over this last season:
"I've been disappointed this year because you guys [the media] treated him like s---. He's a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he's playing, how bad he's shooting and it's time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like s---, and I didn't really like it. So hopefully now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire after this year."
Then later, after seeing some of the "media" backlash to his sentiment, Durant expounded upon his previous thoughts:
"I understand [the media] have to write about the game. Of course I understand that," Durant told ESPN.com. "Kobe hasn't played well, and his team hasn't played well, but did we expect that from them? You did say he was the 93rd-best player in the league, you did have the Lakers as the worst team in the West, but it seems like everybody is happy that he's going out like this. Every game he's played on TV is about how terrible he looks, every article the next day is about how he should retire and give it up. Just killing him.
"I never hear about the Finals MVPs, the accolades. They did it for [former New York Yankee] Derek Jeter, they will do it for Tim Duncan when he leaves even if he's playing bad. I know you gotta report the games, but you're going too in-depth about how bad he is. You're almost kicking him out the league."
When doing analysis of Durant's statements, it's important to understand that the peer group (players) inevitably is more likely to be more supportive and less objective. It's also important to note that pointing out that Kobe has been absolutely dreadful this year isn't treating him like S**t ... it's stating a fairly indisputable fact. Kobe has not only bee awful, he's been borderline historically awful with his shooting. Particularly for someone who shoots over 20 times a game. These criticisms are fair and quite frankly need to be pointed out. Moreover, it's not going after someone, particularly an athlete, to point out something so glaringly obvious.
That being said ...
The players, aside from a very small handful, have pretty much circled the wagons around Kobe. Accolades from everywhere. Many players have said that Kobe was their generation's Michael Jordan. We outside laugh at the comparison ... but that's what players believe. That's the important thing. THEY believe it. Some great players in this league, like Kevin Durant, were inspired to play by Kobe. Despite what we think of the Mamba we didn't pick up a basketball because of him. Players did ... and this seems to be a fact.
Transitioning off of Kobe, however, Durant mentioned something that got social media in a tizzy. He said "the media" in an all-encompassing, amorphous, large unit as people who are going at Kobe. Very little nuance there. This has been a growing trend among many players and even NBPA Union Chief Michele Roberts. Us (players) against them (media). An interesting turn in the last few years. This wasn't the first time that Durant has called out "the media". If there is one thing that unites players is us against them.
It seems that many players feel nit picked (in my view) and alot of the recent boom in blogging COUPLED with twitter means they see everything. Any national columnist has a twitter account can link to a blog by someone else who is going over a certain player. The player sees it inevitably because they see SO MUCH of it. Much like the criticism of Kobe, which is legitimate ... the player sees the sheer volume of it and thinks "These guys are out to get players".
We live in a world that is connected intimately by twitter and Facebook. Athletes see and read things they never would have in the past. Add to that the proliferation of advanced metrics (which many players of still reluctant to embrace) you get an us against them vibe. While the media is more disconnected from personal contact with players ... even more so now that 10 years ago ... the players see EVERYTHING. Many times commentary on social media (twitter, facebook) is lumped in with articles.
The yin and yang between the press and players is a delicate balance. The Denver Nuggets PR Staff lead by Tim Gelt does a wonderful job of accommodating our needs, and we respect that. At the same time we need to be fairly critical an point out flaws. There was ZERO wrong with pointing out what Kobe has been this season. I suppose we as bloggers need to not take personal glee in the demise of a controversial player. That sort of thing would be hard to stop.
As ever, the dance is a difficult one.