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Kobe Bryant Earns First M.V.P. Award
These are just some of the phrases that fans across Los Angeles are saying now that Kobe Bryant has his long-awaited Most Valuable Player trophy and when he raised it yesterday at Staples Center, his joy became the fans’ joy.
But that trophy is more than just hardware or a reward for leading his team to the best record in the Western Conference.
It represents the culmination of his return to the hearts of fans four years after fans were ready to burn their No. 8 jerseys after blaming him for the breakup of a dynasty.
It represents the respect finally gained five years after his reputation was tarnished that summer evening in Colorado where he had an affair with a hotel worker.
It’s for the fans who stood by him and the fans who came back to cheer him after they were upset over Shaquille O’Neal’s departure.
Overall, it’s the acceptance of Kobe Bryant as the mature No. 24 instead of the young No. 8 who was still growing up before our eyes.
NBA observers laid down their personal dislike of Bryant and finally recognized how great he was this year on an all-around level. Instead of wondering if he would ever get the award, now he and the fans can relax knowing that he has it.
Here’s something you might not think of. That trophy also signifies his commercial impact returning to levels before 2003.
You hear all that chatter about Kobe’s YouTube clip where he jumps (allegedly) over that Aston Martin? The clip with over 3.1 million views? After the glaze faded from your eyes, did you notice he was selling his latest shoe from Nike?
Yep. Bryant is once again a successful pitchman for a company, something that hasn’t happened since he was wearing Adidas and eating McDonald’s back in 2002.
It’s all good for the best player in the game today. This season he has reinvigorated the debate between him and Michael Jordan.
While fans may disagree until the end of time, you cannot ignore how Bryant has transformed himself as a creative scorer, a lockdown defender and most of all, a leader.
It’s just the icing on top of a cake that initially tasted bitter when he demanded to be traded last summer and called out team management for wrongfully naming him as the architect behind the collapse of the dynasty.
But now, it’s all a distant memory as this team has come together better than any team since the last title in 2002.
The award is a sign of the growth of Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar, the dependability of Trevor Ariza and Sasha Vujacic off the bench, the success of trading for Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom finally being able to play his role to perfection and the return of Derek Fisher as a stabilizing presence.
We all know that an MVP award largely depends on those around you so Bryant’s growth in trusting his teammates gave them confidence and helped him transition from a reckless gunner to a stone cold closer that sets up his prey before the attack.
But let’s interrupt this Kobe love-fest to also say that it’s also a heavy burden - a burden that won’t be removed until he hoists another trophy in June validating his team as the best in the NBA.
It’s a shiny notch on that belt indeed, but it will only shine brighter if it brings along another title to Los Angeles. Otherwise it’s another individual honor where the team cannot rise to the level of the individual.
The fans chant “MVP!” now but will those chants die because of another playoff exit or will they be replaced with cheers down Figueroa Boulevard as part of another summer parade.
These are the questions all fans should ask as they should not be content with Bryant finally getting his due. They’ll celebrate now but if the Lakers don’t win at least 10 more games, all of the success will go for naught.
That trophy seems like a fitting ending to a season that began with so much turmoil in training camp, but only a title will make it a perfect one.
This is the validation and added responsibility of Kobe Bryant finally reaching the mountaintop. Now that’s he’s there, he must make sure that his team gets there as well.
This may be your overdue reward, Agent 24, but it’s one part of your total mission. Time will tell if you succeed but everyone is rooting for you to make it happen.