Hate has been defined in Websters as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.”
It’s a strong word, used easily and often - in childhood quarrels, between lovers, by parents, by friends. It can be used to demean and hurt, and simply in lighthearted jest. It is evidently, a wonderfully multi-purpose word. I’ve been watching the Kobe Richter-scale for the past week, a series of low grade seismic bumps but you get the feeling that it wouldn't take much to send the digital villagers scampering for their creosote and torches. Bryant’s the man they love to hate.
It was the first half of the quarter finals against Australia and Kobe went 0-3 with some decidedly ugly turnovers. The railbirds went swinging for the fences. He was over and done, a shell of his former self. He came out in the second half and buried six consecutive threes and the narrative skidded to a halt. The whiplash effect bothered absolutely nobody. A sampling of subsequent articles revealed that for Kobe, the Olympics had just begun. The casual epitaphs went into the day file, the Lakers plucked Dwight Howard out of self-immolation and USA won the gold. This confluence of off-setting information caused rampant overload and confusion which was only sated by Breaking Bad discussions.
When athletes, actors and rock stars are still young and vibrant, writers begin stocking provisions for the winter that will eventually come. And, it’s not only observers who feed the narrative, it’s the central figures themselves. The Who’s My Generation famously proclaimed, “Hope I die before I get old.” Mick Jagger once said, “I’d rather be dead than be singing Satisfaction when I’m 45." And Sir Paul McCartney asked, “Will you still need me, when I’m 64?” And there he was at the Olympics opening ceremony, warbling at age 70. The seeds are planted early, and they germinate nicely. Time the avenger waits and grows and feeds conversations.
We watch and read and express our opinions. We combine ideas and words and re-purpose them for the digital age. Webster defines meme as an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Richard Dawkins coined the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, defining it as a unit of cultural transmission. George Orwell considered the re-purposing of words much earlier, in a 1946 essay entitled Politics and the English Language. And then came Newspeak, the art of making words convenient, and of lesser value.
I doubt that Kobe cares much about our memes or deep thoughts. And as years go by, he doesn’t jump as high, and the stretches between his moments of greatness become longer. This is something that he does know, and has acknowledged. The body is made of blood and bone and connective tissue after all. Whether he cares about words is another matter. The kid who used to ignore Phil Jackson’s summer reading list has more recently admitted to picking up a book or two. And while he doesn’t tweet himself, he certainly keeps track of trends and discussions. After the win against Australia, Kobe said that he simply found something to get mad at. Most of twitter-dom assumed he meant them.
There is of course, the possibility that y’all don’t really hate Kobe. That it’s just a funny haha, a joke, get it? Because words don’t have to be dissected. It doesn’t have to get this awkward. They’re just keystrokes is all. Little clicks and tiny buttons on our phones. All in the art of hating. A cultural transmission for our times, in 140 characters or less. And besides, that was last week.
The stories about his growing up have been told and told again. His father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, took the family to Italy after his NBA days were done. They lived there for seven years and Kobe has said that he may too end his playing days in Europe. Joe himself played as recently as 2005, in the ABA. This year found him coaching in Bangkok. He has lived a basketball life. Like father, like son.
There are those whose hate seems real and legitimate. They will defend it, applying the same standards to team rivalries, or other hated sports figures. Or people. Or whatever. Fair enough. I hate spinach, and cleaning the litter box. And not having enough to pay the bills. Some will say that it’s not actually hate, it’s more of a dislike. A really intense dislike. Kobe Bryant bothers them, whether through his arrogance, or the unending tendency to take over games to the detriment of some greater good. Apart from winning, that is.
For those who don’t find this at all amusing, I’d ask with sincere curiosity. If you had the power, would you wish him away? Would you take away his childhood, the years in Italy, the unquenchable thirst to dominate? Would you vanish 16 seasons, 13 All-Star appearances, five NBA championships and his two gold medals? Would you take away the head fakes and jab steps, the art of drawing fouls and the withering stares? How about the Jordan tongue-wag, or the 81 points against the Raptors? Would you take away the feud with Shaq, or the the arguments with Phil Jackson?
In his book The Last Season, Jackson wrote of a conversation he had with general manager Mitch Kupchack, of his extreme frustration with Bryant. He said he wouldn’t come back to coach for another year if Kobe was still in the picture. We all know how that turned out. A season passed and a new one began, with a reunited coach and player. It seems almost funny now, that Kobe actually defends the triangle offense. Phil Jackson knows a little about hate himself. For all his rings, he was a pariah in the league.
Would you take it all away? Because it is all or nothing. Kobe may have mellowed to some degree, but he’s still an intensely polarizing figure. And you do not get to shape somebody or conform them through opinion or words. There is no mix and match. There is only who he is, or nothing at all. Do you change the game itself, and consider it as if he had never existed? He says that he is aware of the ticking clock, that the end of his NBA career is coming to a close. That will happen when it happens.
With both Howard and Nash on board, the Kobe hate becomes more of a conspiracy theory. It’s somehow all interconnected yet shifting and elusive. Burn them for they have traded successfully. And regardless, the Lakers won’t win anyway because Kobe will essentially sabotage their success on the alter of his fading greatness. Unless they actually do manage to buy themselves another ring and then it doesn’t matter, considering that the cards were already stacked.
The summer goes into its hibernation late this time, thanks to Olympic gold, thanks to free agency and trades that made some happy and some frown. And thanks to the fact that we’re not having to sweat late night pressers about basketball related income and the union wars. Fall will come soon enough and with it one more chapter of a generation of basketball that will be gone too soon. And if the loathing simply becomes too much to much to bear, remember that stirring, oft-quoted saying; “If you hate something, set it free; if it comes back it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was meant to be.”