Why I can't root for Kobe

Well, let me thank Jerry West for ruining the NBA Finals.

Here I was all set to sit back and casually enjoy a throwback Lakers-Celtics series, not caring which veteran team won. I’d made peace with Ron Artest, the man who destroyed my Indiana Pacers franchise. I’d accepted the fact that Phil Jackson is regarded as the league’s greatest coach. By today’s standard, this Finals series is relatively tattoo-free.

Man, it was all good.

So why did The Logo find it necessary to grant a FOX Sports radio interview and denigrate Magic Johnson’s legacy?

“There’s no better player that I’ve ever seen than him ... He’s the greatest Laker player that we have ever seen,” West said of Kobe Bryant.

Why? Seriously. Why?

I like Kobe Bryant a lot. He played spectacularly in the closeout game against the Suns, draining an assortment of contested jumpers that had me shouting joyously. I prefer Black Mamba over LeBron in the current Kobe vs. LeBron debate. I’ve forgiven Kobe for snitching on Shaq and failing to recognize his young wife was just pushing his buttons when she insisted The Mailman was “hunting little Mexican girls.”

Rape allegations and the prospect of prison bring out the Mitch Bade tendencies in men much harder than millionaire athletes.

Kobe Bryant is D’Angelo Barksdale, Avon’s nephew and one of my favorite characters from "The Wire." I never loathed D’Angelo because he had trouble adhering to the rules of the streets. I felt sorry for D because he carried the Barksdale name and was trapped in the streets.

Jellybean’s boy is trapped in the NBA’s baby-mama culture. He doesn’t fit comfortably. That’s fine. It makes him sympathetic and likable.

Wire fans loved Bodie and Michael. We connected with them on a much more emotional level than we did D’Angelo. They fit.

That probably explains my passion for Magic Johnson’s career. I love Magic. He’s my all-time favorite professional athlete. He’s the second-best basketball player of all time. He’s the greatest Laker we’ve ever seen.

I’m extremely protective of Magic’s NBA legacy. I’ve hated every player who threatened his place in NBA history.

Until the day they retired, I believed Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were the two most overrated players in sports history. I called Jordan “Hot Air” and Bird “The Great White Hope.” I despised Jordan and Bird and pretty much rooted against them in every game.

Privately, I was happy when Jordan retired to play baseball. I celebrated when Bird’s ailing back ended his career.

Now that they’re gone, I respect Jordan and Bird as much as Magic. I accept that Jordan surpassed Magic as the game’s greatest player. I rank Magic and Larry No. 2 and No. 3 and take comfort in the fact their unique skill sets, style of play and impact on the game will likely never be duplicated.

If you’ve followed my columns over the years, you might remember that I was staunchly in the Shaq camp during the Kobe-Shaq feud and delighted in ridiculing Kobe during those turbulent years.

Shaq was no threat to Magic’s legacy. He’s a Wilt Chamberlain-like freak of nature.

Kobe? Like Allen Iverson before him and LeBron James now, Kobe was a threat to Magic’s legacy. Kobe needed to be dealt with, knocked down a few pegs. I figured the Colorado allegations, the feud with Shaq and the petulant way he handled the initial post-Shaq years sufficiently damaged Kobe’s rep.

I never envisioned he’d rebound enough to seriously challenge Magic again.

Now Jerry West starts popping off his mouth. Now I have a vested interest in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo stopping Kobe from getting his fifth title, which would give The Closer the same number of rings as Magic. Now I may be forced to crank out a few more vicious columns lambasting Bryant and ridiculing anyone who lumps the moody gunner in the same category as Magic and Larry.

Damn it. All of my unfair negative energy has been directed at LeBron James.

Jordan and Bird’s assault on Magic’s place in history transpired in two different decades. I hated Bird in the ‘80s and Jordan in the ‘90s. My hatred of Iverson peaked in the first half of the ‘00s.

I don’t need the hassle of disparaging two NBA legends during the first half of the ‘10s. I’ll risk sounding like a cranky old man who believes everything was better in the old days.

I need the Celtics to get Kobe off my lawn!

E-mail Jason or follow him on Twitter. Media requests for Mr. Whitlock should be directed to Fox Sports PR.

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