It was a somber day last week when one of the league’s all-time greats in Kobe Bryant announced to the world that following this season, his 20th year in the league, he’ll be hanging it up for good and retiring from professional basketball. With five championships, two Finals MVPs, and seventeen NBA All-Star game appearances to his name, Bryant’s impending retirement marks the departure of one of the most accomplished players the game will ever see.
However, Kobe’s accolades haven’t stopped some critics and fans alike from mocking. Bryant and the Lakers are currently languishing in last in the West with Bryant off to the worst start of his career, earning the ignominious distinction as the league’s most inefficient volume scorer.
After announcing his retirement, though, an unanticipated ally in one Kevin Durant came to Bryant’s defense, calling out the media in the process.
“I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him. He was our Michael Jordan. I watched Michael towards the end of his career when he was with the Wizards, and I seen that’s what Kobe emerged as the guy for us.
I’ve been disappointed this year because you guys treated him like s—. He’s a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting. 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. It was sad the way he was getting treated, in my opinion.
But he had just an amazing career, a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Means so much to the game of basketball. Somebody I’m always going to look to for advice, for help, for anything. Just a brilliant, brilliant, intelligent man. And it’s sad to see him go.”
For starters, the media isn’t some homogenous blob. There are plenty of media members who go out of their way to laud Kobe’s brilliance and extoll his ability in the clutch at every turn and there are just as many who take every opportunity to dump on Bryant (and a fair few in the middle who can do both).
However, not every postgame recap can be a glowing eulogy when Bryant is shooting an abysmal 30% from the field and yet still leading his team in field goal attempts, putting up more than 18 shots per game (five more than the second-leading shot taker on the team). Further, for commentators to suggest that on a team full of young players in need of reps, that the 37 year-old on his way out take on a slightly reduced role doesn’t mean they’re hating; it means they’re doing their job.
This isn’t Durant’s first such squabble with the media. Just a couple of months ago, the Thunder forward took issue with some of Stephen A. Smith’s comments, calling the long-time NBA reporter a liar, and last year when asked about Scott Brooks’ job status at the All-Star game, Durant said of media members “You guys really don’t know s—.”
To be frank, KD’s right in this one regard: We know relatively little compared to the players and coaches who are on the receiving end of unrelenting media scorn, and for those same commenters to have the loudest voices and yet such comparatively little knowledge must be a constant source of frustration for Durant. We don’t know if his teammate forgot to set a screen off the ball that would have set up the game-winner or if the defense snuffed out the second option the coach had drawn up, but our ignorance won’t stop our incessant howling if he misses the shot.
Make no mistake, though, those in the media still have a job to do, and covering Kobe’s epically poor start to the season is just as much a part of that job as covering his retirement will be at season’s end. While Bryant’s polarizing demeanor has spawned its fair share of media members with an axe to grind, it’s unfair of Durant to cast the entire media in the same light. There will come a time to celebrate Kobe, and I’m sure we’ll do plenty of it this season whenever our nostalgia gets the best of our cynicism, but now, as the Lakers and Kobe sit marooned at the bottom of the conference, is not that time.
photo via llananba