According to the results of a recently released survey in Forbes Magazine, Kobe Bryant is the second most disliked NBA player and ninth most disliked athlete in America, with an approval rating of 27 percent. Kobe was also on this list in 2011, appearing behind only Kris Humphries and LeBron James. The one man in the league who inspires more disgust from the people in this country happens to also play on Kobe's team. His name is Metta World Peace.Which means that, despite the long, arduous battle between Dwight Howard and the Magic that included lying to the media and fans, the undermining of coaches and management, the childish passive-aggressiveness, and the bad pun "Dwightmare" nicknames that have been served up to the public since 2011, at no point has Dwight Howard ever been reviled to the degree that Kobe has consistently felt, including this supposedly less controversial stage of his career. And, much as it has always been, Kobe could not care less.Of course, just because Kobe doesn't care about public (or private, for that matter) perception doesn't mean it hasn't been a problem. It was public perception that he prematurely broke up the Laker dynasty of the early 2000s by shipping Shaq out of town, despite insistence from the Buss family that this was not the case. This turn of events facilitated a skewed vision of Kobe as the ultimate selfish player, interested only in the accumulation of assets to reflect his personal greatness. Virtually every decision Kobe has made on the basketball court has been viewed through the lens of questioning whether he was doing it for the team or his own glory. In reality, his mindset has been far more consistent, in that he only really cares about winning. He simply has had his own passionate ideas about the best ways to make it happen. And he doesn't care what you think about it.Dwight Howard is another story entirely. He cares about whether or not we knew that he hated his former coach. He cares whether or not we find him amusing on the Ellen DeGeneres show. And most importantly, he cares about whether or not the public views him as soft for lacking the ability to play through a torn labrum injury. Kobe Bryant is acutely aware of Howard's sensitivity to public perception, which is why he made the statement publicly in the first place, putting Howard in a corner that would force him to play if it matters what people think. And he is aware that this Lakers team, with their backs against the wall, cannot withstand too many more games without Howard regardless, if they have any hope of making the playoffs. But Dwight Howard has his own agenda.
"I want to play," he told ESPN
. "I mean, why wouldn't I want to play? But at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can't leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don't play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and trying to get healthy again."
That quote makes it pretty clear that his priorities are with the upcoming free agency period and the continuation of his career. That is not necessarily evil or even unreasonable. As much as we like to pretend that loyalty, pride, and glory in sport stand above all else, the reality is that professional sports is a business that athletes perform in primarily for financial incentive. There is nothing wrong with that. But Kobe is never going to be able to adapt to that mentality. Not because he is desperate to win a sixth title in the twilight of his career, but rather because he has been desperate to win a title every year of his career. He believes that Howard should play through his torn labrum because he didn't miss any time with the exact same injury in 2003, without even bothering to take Dwight's priorities into account. It all boils down to the reason why Kobe will never completely relate to Dwight Howard, the same reason why he will never motivate Dwight to be the player Kobe thinks he should be, and the same reason why Kobe will never be a successful NBA coach. The only way that Kobe Bryant knows how to win is to be Kobe Bryant. And he doesn't care what Dwight thinks.