For twelve years I’ve watched your evolution as a basketball player and as a person.
From the slam dunk championship, the three consecutive NBA championships, 62 points in 3 quarters, 81 points in one game, countless clutch plays — and now your first Most Valuable Player Award.
I’ve read and listened to innumerable criticisms thrown in your direction.
Phil Jackson called you “uncoachable.”
You were branded as aloof, self-centered, a ball hog, incapable of making those around you better, and more concerned with individual accolades than team success.
Despite your many triumphs on court, it hasn’t always been easy being a fan of yours.
There was the incident in Eagle, Colorado, your feuds with Shaquille, your temper-tantrums towards officials, two first round exits, and last summer’s trade demand.
But through all of that — I defended you to anyone that would read or listen — because I believed that a day like yesterday and a season like this one would come.
You were capable of making your teammates better, if only they showed the potential to improve. You would develop into a leader, when surrounded by teammates who had the desire to play to your standard of excellence.
You would redeem yourself.
And you didn’t let me down.
When surrounded by an improved supporting cast, you led your team to the best record in the most competitive conference in NBA history. You sacrificed some of you individual excellence for the betterment of the team.
You didn’t score 50 points every night, not because you weren’t capable, but because it wasn’t necessary to win.
And that’s been your number one goal all along. To win. To become the greatest player who has ever played — by any means necessary.
Even still, when presented with the greatest individual honor in the game, you gave credit to the people who made it possible — your teammates.
“We have done it together,” Bryant said. “This is us playing as a unit. These guys made me look better than I am.”
Phil Jackson, the man who called you “uncoachable” only four years ago said, “I don’t know anybody who’s ever deserved this trophy more. I don’t know anybody who’s ever worked as hard to accomplish what he’s accomplished.”
Jerry West, the man who brought you to the NBA said, “I just don’t think you find people this competitive who play this game,” he said. “You just don’t. He’s always wanted to be the best, and he is the best today.”
I, for one, am proud of you.
I feel priviledged to have watched your evolution over the past twelve seasons.
I’m happy to see that all of your obvious hard work is beginning to pay off.
I hope this year’s MVP award gives you some semblance of basketball peace and closes the book on twelve tumultous chapters of your career.
Upon winning the award, you remarked that this year has “been an emotional roller coaster. It’s been a heck of a journey.”
The same could be said of your career as a whole.
I believe the best is yet to come.