In the mid-90s, the biggest name in basketball was a player named Penny Hardaway. When Michael Jordan retired for the first time in 1993 the NBA frantically searched for a replacement and found it in Hardaway. The “reign” of Penny as NBA god ranged from action figures to a signature shoe to a miniature sidekick named Lil’ Penny to Tyra Banks.
Shortly after Michael Jordan retired for the second time, the NBA frantically searched again for another replacement and they found it in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. Today Kobe Bryant is everywhere from NBA ads to Sprite commercials to jars of Nutella. On first impression, the NBA has made Bryant out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. The reality is Bryant is driven more by trying to establish a legacy for himself than being a team player and is pathetically arrogant. Although Penny was mired by an injury, his fall from NBA stardom came from the fact he was incapable of leading a team on his own. Ironically, when Hardaway was at the peak of his fame his teammate on the Orlando Magic was none other than the Lakers’ center Shaquille O’Neal.
The NBA expects fans to ignore the fact that the main reason Penny or Kobe have ever been able to exploit their game is because they play with the most dominant player basketball has ever had. The truth is the NBA chooses who you are going to like and who they are going to market to the masses. Shaq isn’t that person, Kobe is. Enter LeBron James.
LeBron James, the high school phenom from Ohio, has never played a single game in the NBA, yet the hype surrounding him makes Kobe look like a benchwarmer. LeBron has a guaranteed player contract, a 25 million dollar shoe deal, and a bundle of endorsements waiting for him. Can anybody say Nutella?
LeBron has Reebok, Nike, and Adidas fighting over him. Kobe no longer has a shoe deal. Here is a reason I give Kobe to fear: his overrated Lakers are no longer the best team in the league and Michael Jordan is retiring for the third time this summer. Sound familiar? Ask Penny. If the Lakers finally meet their demise in this year’s playoffs and Shaq’s unspoken rift with Bryant becomes public like it did with Penny in Orlando, Kobe might just be worth a Penny. Not even Phil Jackson will be able to save this one.
As for the NBA, they will begin to cash in on LeBron and leave Kobe out for the vultures. So, I leave you with this: LeBron James may save us from Kobe Bryant but will he hold up in the long run or will he be yet another victim in the NBA’s quest for unlimited financial gains and the next Michael Jordan? Only time will tell.
Jaafar Choufani is a senior majoring in international finance and marketing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.