If you win five NBA titles, as Kobe Bryant has, and if you’re an 18-time All-Star, as Kobe Bryant is, you’re going to be respected.
But liked? Well, that’s a different story.
Yes, as we say farewell to Bryant, it’s only fair to ask the question: Was he liked by his teammates and the guys he played against?
“Well, at the time, no, I don’t think so at all,” former Laker and NBA All-Star Cedric Ceballos said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Everybody was wondering where is this kid coming from? What is his intentions on pushing me and telling Shaquille that he needs to be in shape an telling Smush (Parker) he needs to make better decisions, and ‘You have an ability to be great, Pau, all you have to do is bring it out of you.’ I don’t think he was in the friend-making business at that time. He was about conquering and destroying whatever was in his way to try to win a championship and to bring glory not only to his teammates and his city, but also to his legacy and his name.
“Each and every time we come across athletes like this, we (try to) figure out what kind of person (they are),” Ceballos continued. What are we dealing with? Everybody has their quirks. Babe Ruth had his, Michael Jordan had his, Muhammad Ali had his, and these were some of the quirks that Kobe Bryant had to take to get to where he wanted to be.”
But as we saw Wednesday night, Bryant, who led the Lakers to victory, who took 50 shots and scored 60 points in his NBA finale, was surrounded by teammates past and present. He was surrounded by guys he used to criticize and rebuke, guys who showed up at Staples just to show the Mamba some love.
Bryant had a highly publicized feud with O’Neal. O’Neal was on hand Wednesday, smiling, cheering and in awe of a player he butted heads with but with whom he won three NBA titles.
“Even now, he’s embraced by Shaquille O’Neal,” Ceballos said. “Smush Parker, everybody else who had problems with him as teammates, showed so much love and respect for him last night and also throughout his career – because that part didn’t matter. That didn’t matter that we weren’t the best friends and we didn’t hang out at the club and we didn’t do things that normal NBA players would run around and do. He kept to himself, focused on his agenda and achieved goals that we never thought were possible to reach.”