Kobe Bryant recently finished ninth in a Forbes' list of most-hated athletes.
Is it possible that during this season of intense tribulation and constant media scrutiny, Bryant has become something of a sympathetic figure?
Bryant is not accustomed to losing. In his surefire Hall of Fame career, Bryant has won five NBA Championships and his legacy leaves him somewhere between the top-three and top-10 players of all time.
This season has been a disaster from the jump.
Steve Nash broke his leg in the second game.
Head coach Mike Brown got shown the door a few games later.
Mike D'Antoni does no better.
Pau Gasol gets hurt, then gets benched, then gets hurt again and all the while he's been messed around more than a freshman frat pledge.
Dwight Howard can't get on the same page with almost anyone. His shoulder is killing him, probably requires surgery and his pending free agency looms in the air like a thick, L.A. smog.
Then, there's Bryant.
Throughout this turbulent season, Bryant has tried almost every avenue at his disposal to get results. He's scored at an obscene rate, or dished the ball out like he was a reincarnation of a taller John Stockton. Mamba's tried going with the flow and he's tried calling his teammates, especially Howard, out on the carpet.
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan on Wednesday. "We need some urgency."
That was taken by most to imply in some way that Howard should be on the court, not in the trainer's room. Injuries and pain threshold are individual. Questioning Howard's toughness is not a smart street to go down. Howard played with a severe back injury last season, and truth be told, probably came back from it too early to start this one.
Maybe, what Bryant was saying to MacMullan was that time is running out on this Lakers' season quickly. They've gone 7-3 over their last 10 and are still 3 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
He was right, they don't have time to heal.
Yet, Bryant had to know that his comments would be taken as a call for Howard to get his torn labrum on the court. He did that Thursday night and the Lakers lost to the Celtics.
Bryant made clear that he wasn't trying to rile up his large teammate when he spoke with Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski.
"Listen, I really think people ran in the wrong direction with those quotes," Bryant told Wojnarowski, speaking of the quotes in MacMullan's story. "And I think that put Dwight on the defense, put him a little on edge.
"But that wasn't the intention, nor the purpose. I didn't say anything earth- shattering. I didn't say anything I haven't been saying all year.
"Honestly, I didn't take a run at him."
If we take Bryant at his word, which involves a trust he may not have earned, but if we do, what has Bryant done other than speaking his mind? Let's be honest, maybe Bryant didn't "take a run at him," but Bryant had a message and it was received.
Isn't that some form of leadership? Bryant appears to be doing everything short of rubbing two sticks together to light a fire under this team, and Howard in particular. Maybe, he felt he had no choice but to use the media to get his message across.
There are a lot of maybes in this theory, but there are reasonable answers as well. Bryant was absolutely correct, the Lakers don't have time for Howard's shoulder to heal. They need wins badly. L.A. has played 52 games already. Only 30 left and a good chunk of them will be without the services of Pau Gasol, who Bryant is clearly comfortable with and clearly handles softer than Howard.
This premise has as much to do with how you perceive Bryant than anything else. If you don't like him, then he's a bad guy picking on a hurt teammate. If you're alright with him, then he's trying his best to do everything in his power.
Bryant even changed his style on court. Over the last 10 games, Bryant has averaged 8.2 apg trying to facilitate the offense. Over the same span, Bryant's scoring has gone down to 19.7 ppg. The Lakers went 7-3.
That's a pretty remarkable amount of discipline to incorporate your teammates more into the offense.
Off the court, Bryant is talking, and he uses more profanity with the media than any player in the league. It's like listening to Sam Kinison in his prime.
But Bryant also took to Twitter. Mock it if you will, but Bryant takes time to answer fans questions, talk back to them and last week, the Lakers tweeted a picture of him playing piano in a hotel lobby.
How can you not like that?
Plus, Bryant scolded a couple of tweeters for posting homophobic slurs recently, owning his past when he was fined for using inappropriate language like that.
So many athletes want nothing to do with any issue and Bryant is trying to make a difference.
Bryant has many faults and his past is littered with a large lapse in judgement. But Bryant knows he's at the end of his career. The expectations on this team were massive and they are nowhere near living up to them.
Bryant knows that reflects on him. He is trying to get whatever he can out of Howard. It doesn't appear to working, but Bryant's reached his end. He doesn't know what else he can do.
It seems like attempts at leadership to me. That should be applauded, not deemed the ninth most-hated anything.
- The Atlanta Hawks are in a bind. If they trade Josh Smith before the deadline, they could get a haul for him and help the franchise for the future. If they move him, the Hawks will have very little chance of signing Howard in the offseason. Howard and Smith are tight and they have money for both. This isn't an easy decision.
- Rumored Ben Gordon for Kris Humphries trade stories make sense to me if I was in the Brooklyn Nets' front office. Gordon could play in a smaller lineup at the end of games with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez. Coincidentally, that would be a better matchup late in games against the New York Knicks who employ Carmelo Anthony at the big forward spot. Why the Charlotte Bobcats would want Kris Humphries back is a question mark. Humphries has real value, but not to a rebuilding team. He's not a long-term answer for Charlotte. Humprhies would be better-served on a good team as a 20- minute a night rebounder. Kind of like how the Nets have been using him.
- My dark-horse MVP candidate is Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, the most underrated superstar of this generation.
- I think you'll see a lot of roster changes for Sunday's All-Star game this week with Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Howard all a little dinged up.
- Movie moment - Ever liked a movie, but can't watch it a second time? I have two of those on my list - "In the Bedroom," and "American History X." Caught the second one again this week and it's just as disturbing as anything I've ever seen. Can't wait for another 11 years to go by between viewings.
- TV moment - The Grammys were riveting television. I couldn't wait to watch how Taylor Swift would dance to the next performance. Or Ellen Degeneres for that matter. Exciting.