Last Friday, Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers came to town and got dumped by the hometown Sixers. With Bryant's arrival into town, there were articles and the usual talk about why Sixers fans do not like Kobe Bryant. For example, the following is from the Associated Press' account of the game:
"Of course, the sometimes-boorish Sixers fans booed Bryant almost every time he touched the ball. The unforgiving crowd has never forgotten when Bryant proclaimed he was "coming to Philly to cut their hearts out," in the 2001 NBA finals."
I have heard this explanation before as to why the locals don't like Kobe Bryant and while that may be a small part of it, it is a gross generalization. I have a much simpler reason why the locals don't like him much here; Kobe, by all appearances, seems to be very much a contrived personality. His entire body of work over the course of his career has shown him to be a big phony. He always aspired to be the heir to Michael Jordan as a mainstream, cross-over cultural phenomenon, but in reality, he has behaved like a self-aggrandizing jackass.
Disliking Kobe is not a recent sentiment; in my opinion, it goes back to before the 2001 Finals. It goes all the way back to his draft year in 1996, when he stated that he wouldn't play for the then-Charlotte Hornets, who had drafted him. This was seen by many as a move to a big market where endorsements could be had rather than a decision based on basketball. It was considered an audacious move by a guy many thought was not immediately ready for the NBA at the time. Kobe's perceived arrogance about this entire situation rubbed a lot of people (including me) the wrong way.
Furthermore, many in the area wanted Kobe to go to one of the Big 5 schools. His father, Joe, was an assistant for LaSalle University at the time and many thought and hoped he would go to LaSalle because of that. We all know how this scenario ultimately worked out in Kobe's favor, but in '96, high schoolers going into the NBA was not as commonplace and many looked on the practice as bad for the player and the sport. Ten years after Kobe was drafted, the NBA mandated in 2006 that high school players must wait 1 year after their graduating class has finished high school to be eligible for the draft. You can debate the merit of this rule or high schoolers in the NBA, but what is not under debate is the impact many thought Kobe would have had for one of the Big 5 schools had he chosen to go to school for a year or two in Philadelphia. I still believe there is a segment of folks who still hold that against him.
It wasn't until then that you started to hear people on talk radio say things like "Kobe wasn't raised here, but in Italy" or "Kobe isn't from Philly, he's from Lower Merion"....essentially, a perjorative nod to Kobe's attending an upwardly mobile school like Lower Merion High as opposed to one of the more famous basketball city high schools like Simon Gratz. Furthermore, the scant playing time he received as a rookie seemed to justify many of these sentiments people believed about Kobe's not being ready for the NBA and would have been better served by going to college.
As time passed, and Kobe got progressively better during his NBA career, many believed his development has come as a result of the Lakers having a force such as Shaquille O'Neal as the centerpiece of the team. Many believed (and still believe) that the Lakers success at the end of the 90s and into the 2000s was more as a result of a motivated Shaquille O'Neal and not the mercurial Kobe Bryant. Kobe marched on, playing alongside O'Neal and garnering lucrative endorsement deals, shilling everything from McDonald's to Adidas. All the while, he maintained and cultivated a veneer of a squeaky clean superstar.
It was during the run of championships from 2000 - 2003 that Bryant began to complain about his own game being stifled with the offense going through Shaquille O'Neal. In a town like Philadelphia, whose fans observed the Lakers go through this tiff while winning championships, this sort of attitude does not go down well. It has been well publicized that no sports team has won since 1983 in Philly. It made people question what Kobe cared more about...his own statistics or winning championships. Caring more about one's own stats than a Championship is anathema in this town (unless your name is Allen Iverson).
In the eyes of Sixers fans, the argument about Kobe Bryant was always couched against what kind of player Bryant was compared to the very popular Allen Iverson. People wondered how Iverson might have developed differently if he had O'Neal to play with rather than the likes of Matt Geiger. In these comparisons, Bryant was universally perceived as the more physically gifted player, but it was obvious from the tone of the conversations that Bryant was not the more respected player of the two.
When Bryant made the "cut out their hearts" remark in 2001, I would argue he was already disliked by a big segment of the Philly sports populace. That remark just sort of sealed public opinion of Kobe that he was an "L.A. guy" and that he would never be a real "Philly guy" despite his stated affection for the area.
The alleged rape incident in Eagle, Colorade further sullied Bryant. Whether he actually did it or not is something only two people will ever know. What is part of the public record is that Bryant essentially talked out of school about Shaquille O'Neal paying off women to keep their liasons private and the whiny press conference he gave with his aggrieved wife at this side after the entire incident. Sometimes, in adversity, people say and do things they regret....I'm guessing Kobe regrets both of these incidents as both revealed him to be small and petty.
That he was additionally painted as a petulant, uncoachable whiner by Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson in his book "The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul" cemented and reinforced Kobe's perceived status as a prima donna.
With this body of public work from the talented, but tainted Kobe Bryant, it's amazing that more fans don't boo him when he comes to their town.