Gone are the days where Kobe Bryant remains a toxic figure.
Sure, he still elicits debate on whether he shoots too much and if his fiery demeanor became unbearable for Dwight Howard to stay with the Lakers. But that pales to the never-ending scrutiny he faced as a brash player from high school, when he played with Shaquille O’Neal and when he demanded the Lakers to trade him six years ago out of frustration with the team’s losing.
Beyond Bryant’s superior talent, championship resume and more open personality, a preseason NBA.com survey reveals that the plurality of this year’s rookie class voted Bryant as their favorite player. Bryant won 21.2 percent of the vote, while Miami’s LeBron James (15.2 percent), Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (12.1 percent), Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (12.1 percent), Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett (9.1 percent) and the Clippers’ Chris Paul (9.1 percent) followed suit.
“LeBron won his second straight championship, but couldn’t retain his spot as the rookies’ favorite player,” wrote NBA.com’s John Schuhmann. “As Kobe nears the end of his career, he still gets love from the kids.”
Bryant hardly needs to read this survey for validation. After becoming the youngest player to score 30,000 points last year, Bryant openly admitted he saw players such as Durant and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook as mirror images of himself.
“They just don’t give a (hoot),” Bryant said. “That’s really it. Not too many players have had that. Michael (Jordan) had it. I had it. Durant has it. Westbrook has it. They just don’t care about pressure situations or criticism.”
Does Bryant sense those players learned that mentality after seeing him play?
“For sure,” he said. “They watched me growing up and saw how I dealt with criticism and all this other stuff. I just put my head down and kept playing … They’re cut from the same cloth.”
Bryant then described Durant and Westbrook as “throwbacks.” He also sounded appreciative that he left an imprint on the NBA beyond collecting five NBA championships and currently having a fourth place list on the league’s all-time scoring list.
“You feel proud about it because you feel you leave the game in good hands,” Bryant said. “You’ve done more than just score points and win championships. But you helped lead the next generation.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org