Is there a disconnect between the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant?
“First of all, I did not know he was leaving town,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on Friday. “Second of all, I think it’s a bigger story to everyone here (the media) than it really is to us (Lakers management).”
The opening response from the Lakers GM’s annual season ending press conference was telling that Bryant did not answer to anyone despite the $30 million he was paid in salary this season. For an employee to hop a flight out of the country without notifying his team, coach or general manager while the season was still ongoing was poor form.
Of course, blind backers will state that Bryant was injured and could not play and that his absence made no difference.
True, but Pau Gasol could not play and was suffering from vertigo that would certainly not be aided by flights, but he was still travelling with the team until the final game. When asked why he was on the final road trip of the season, the Spaniard told Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding that it was about being a “good teammate” and a “professional.”
Gasol hit the nail on the head. Bryant’s decision to ditch the team and disappear from sight was not professional, and he had ceased being a good teammate a long time ago.
Bryant had a duty to step forward and continue to be the face of the team in the face of injury. Bryant’s legend is so great that his mere presence on the bench is enough to fill fans in the stands.
If Bryant had only neglected his professionalism on one count this season, that would be forgivable. However, he was a repeat offender that seemingly cared more about selling sports drinks than thanking fans.
After speaking with the media to announce the end of his season, Bryant did not once entertain questions from the press for the final weeks of the season. He was no longer acting like the face of the franchise and the captain of the team.
Bryant stopped supporting his teammates, too. By season’s end, his appearance on a road trip would have been more newsworthy than his repeated absence. He stopped travelling with his teammates as they struggled to finish a season that was largely spoiled rotten by his injury.
Bryant did not take ownership of this team or this season. Considering he was not only the highest paid player on this team but also in the league, that was unacceptable.
On the final home game of the season--labeled “fan night”--Bryant was set to address the fans and thank them for their support during an incredibly testing season. Instead, he claimed a migraine and an unprepared Nick Young grabbed the microphone and thanked fans in attendance.
Young may have had a great year, but Bryant was still the Laker fans wanted to see standing at center court. Migraine or not, Bryant should have stepped on the floor and said a few words to thank the fans who have stuck with this team through the thinnest of times.
Would Bryant miss a game due to a migraine? Bryant balked at the chance to thank the fans, and that was inexcusable.
Then, Bryant confirmed that he had checked out, literally.
On the night the Lakers were playing their final game of the season, Bryant was already vacationing in France. During their season ending press conferences, his coach and general manager confirmed that they had no idea he had left the country until after the fact.
Not surprising, Bryant decided not take part in exit interviews. As his teammates sat through interview sessions with the coach and general manager, answered difficult questions from the media and said goodbye to the season, Bryant was enjoying views of the Eifel Tower and visiting the Louvre.
For everyone who attacked Steve Nash for not earning his salary this season, Bryant earned three times as much as the Canadian and played less than half as many games. Also, Nash traveled with the team until the end. He was always present, regularly answered questions and acted like a true professional.
When exit interviews came about, Nash sat on the stage and answered difficult questions about his future and the team’s direction in both English and Spanish. At the same time, Bryant was busy practicing his French somewhere in Paris.
Not being available for his teammates, the fans or the media, Bryant did not only complete the most injured season of his career; he just completed the least professional season of his career.