Love It or Not, How Kobe Bryant Became America’s Favorite Athlete

Once upon a time there was a man named Kobe Bryant.

Kobe played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers. During the summer of 2007, Bryant let the team know that he was not happy with the direction that the team was headed. 

Having experienced two straight post-season butt-kickings that were worse than anything Mel Gibson had experienced in any of his films, the Lakers looked as if they would remain at ground zero.

After a summer that saw Kobe demanding trades, backing down, and then doing the whole thing over again, the question of what Bryant wanted would have made Inception seem transparent in comparison. 

Twenty trade demands and reversals later, Kobe ultimately decided to remain in the city of Angels.

The regular season eventually arrived to find Number 24 still donning purple & gold. Stranger still, it seemed as if Kobe was actually enjoying playing team ball for the first time. After 37 games, the Lakers held a surprising record of 26-11.

The good vibe was palpable, and reminiscent of the good old days when the Lakers had been contenders. But LA would soon be brought down from the clouds—O.K., "billowing plumes of smog," it is LA, after all), losing starting center Andrew Bynum to a knee injury...suddenly the Lakers found themselves in desperate need of a big man. 

On February 1, team GM Mitch Kupchak managed to pull off a trade more lopsided than DJ Mbenga’s face. The Lakers said ‘hola’ to the lanky Spaniard Pau Gasol, and ‘adios’ to Kwame Brown, who, in his short stint in L.A., had proved to be as useful on the court as a pet rock. 

In Gasol's first game, Bryant dislocated the little finger on his shooting hand, but, thanks to a balanced night of different Lakers putting the ball in the hoop, LA walked away with the win.

With Gasol in the line-up the Lakers showed themselves as clear contenders, going on to ...

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