And it's not because he's the best player in the NBA. It's not because of the ice water he has running through him at the end of games. I could care less about him running Shaq out of LA, and it certainly has nothing to do with the 2003 rape allegations. To me, it just seems that Kobe is always putting up a front.
There are two different Kobe Bryants. There's the Kobe who pats his teammates on the butt after a good play against a blow out win against the Bobcats. He's the guy posing with his Gold Medal and hugging his teammates after defeating Spain in the Beijing Olympics. He's even the guy who seems pretty endearing in that Spike Lee Joint: Kobe Doin' Work.
It seems everyone has forgotten the Kobe Bryant from last year's Finals. Remember his great news conference after the Celtics epic comeback in game 4? He sounded real grown up during that one. I also remember him trying to run Andrew Bynum out of town just a few years ago, and almost leaving the Lakers to go to play for the Clippers!
So how did Kobe become so lovable in just 12 months? Well he can thank his public relations makeover to the rise of Gasol, Odom, and Ariza during the playoffs. If Kobe would have played with my intramural team, we could still probably make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with an under 500 record. That's a testament to how great I think Kobe is. Which is why the Lakers could coast through the regular season and playoffs until they met the Celtics last year. The Celtics were to complete a team, and would need contributions from guys other than Kobe to win the series.
But in the Finals last year, Gasol looked more like Tina from Napoleon Dynamite than an NBA starting center. But to his credit, he really turned it during these Finals. Gasol improved on his regular season numbers by averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in the postseason. But maybe most important was doing what no one on the Cavs could do: contain Dwight Howard on defense.
More impressive than Gasol had to be the play of Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom in the Finals. Odom averaged two more points per game during the Finals than he did the entire regular season. As for Ariza, he made the play that exemplified the Lakers game four win. While the game was tied in overtime, a shot clanked of the rim and into the open court. In a sea of Magic players, Ariza grabbed the rebound, proving that this Lakers team wanted it more than the Magic did. As we know, the rest is history.
So Kobe has not changed at all; it's just the pieces around him that have. I still think that come next season, if the Lakers aren't repeating, talk will start focusing again on what a prima donna Kobe is. This championship may have elevated Kobe to immortal status with names like Jordan, Bird, Kareem, and Magic. And another loss next year and a bad attitude will put him in a class with another all time front runner: A-Rod.