Hours before you willed your Los Angeles Lakers to a 21-point blowout loss to the injury-ravaged Boston Celtics, whom were playing the second of a back-to-back, and accumulated an impressive plus/minus of -20, you gave an interview full of revealing quotes that ESPN was all too happy to repeat over and over again. Anyone who follows the NBA, even tangentially, already knows what you said. Some stuff about how the Laker way is title or bust, Dwight Howard needs to ignore the tingling sensation in his back when he does strenuous activities such as sitting down, “Look at me! I’m a leader!” Quite rote and par for the course for you, right? What shocked me, though, was your nearly constant (for you) use of “We”. Quotes like "We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal” and “We need some urgency” actually left your mouth. Look at the practically plentiful use of “we”! You’re so used to saying “I” and “me, me, me” that I didn’t know you had “we” in your vernacular. I mean, obviously, you meant “I don’t have time for [Howard’s shoulder] to heal.”
For all your protestations about how your current team must continue the Laker tradition of winning, it’s all a diversion worthy of its own page in Gregg Popovich’s last-second playbook. You don’t want Howard to suck it up and play through his surgically-repaired pain because the Lakers just win, damn it! You want Howard to risk the second half of his career because YOU are running out of time in your pathetic reenactment of the biblical story of Michael Jordan, A True Story. Don’t try to deny it; your obsession, your rivalry, your one-upmanship, whatever you want to call it, with your idol, or, more likely, the legacy of your idol is the single driving force of everything you do. It has shaped everything you have done in your career. In your quest to imitate and, ultimately, conquer the greatest player of all, you have no sense of who you are or any discernible identity of your own.
The most obvious example is your stupid jersey number. Changing your number from 8 to 24, mid-career no less? Unless you fancy yourself as Jack Bauer or a third grader just learning how to multiply, it’s simultaneously petty and sad. You had a chance, in a small way, to write your own story as #8 instead of trying to fit your insecure footsteps into Jordan’s Air Jordans. You had a chance, in a huge way, with your partnership with Shaquille O’Neal, perhaps the most imposing player we’ve ever seen, to create something truly dynastic. You and Shaq could’ve ruled the Aughts with impunity. But your crisis of identity, your need to topple your idol in achievements and stature led you to feud with Shaq, feeling his laziness and pendulous body weight disqualified him from the alpha dog status no one ever questioned Jordan about. You had a good argument too: why should Shaq continue getting the ball when teams would just foul him knowing that he makes love to bricks? Your skills continued to burgeon while his declined. Why didn’t you use your leadership skills you so artfully laid out for us on a recent Facebook post to convince Shaq to relinquish his control of the offense? Why didn’t the shift in the San Antonio Spurs offense from David Robinson to Tim Duncan then later from Duncan to Tony Parker lead to intense feuding and Shakespearean machinations?
But your treatise on leadership sounded very convincing:
Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain? Here’s where the true responsibility of being a leader lies. Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived.
It all sounds very leadery and draconian. But your recent comment on Howard chafes against prioritizing team success. You wanted a young player, whom you’ve done nothing to establish a meaningful connection with, to risk his future mobility and career because you must, you MUST get that sixth title to match your idol. You’re a user, not a leader. It was pathetic and selfish. This has never been about Laker tradition or even your own legacy. This was always about chasing the specter of Michael Jordan at the expense of creating and embracing your own identity. You stand now at the precipice of never conquering that specter. If you aren’t better than Michael Jordan, then what are you? In many ways, our current obsession with remakes, reboots, and rehashes of past success in film, television, and music, perfectly reflects you, Kobe Bean: you’re a remake, reboot, and rehash of Michael Jordan.
In other words, you’re the most pitiful player of your generation.