Kobe Bryant was a different man in his early days. People felt bullied and humiliated by him; he evolved in his later years into a better man, father, and husband.
When Kobe Bryant died on January 26, 2020, his fans across the world mourned. We know him as a devoted family man and a father of four daughters, who was dedicated to his craft as well. He was also known for being a cultured man who won an Oscar in the Best Animated Short Film category for Dear Basketball in 2018. People only had praises for the player who was part of the Los Angeles Lakers championship-winning team five times during his career.
However, "the Kobe Bryant of 1996 to 2004 is not the Kobe Bryant of 2005 to January 26, 2020," writes Jeff Pearlman, author of Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty. The book was reported and written before Bryant's death and might upset people who love him. "He was not then the contemplative adult who raved of having four daughters. He was not then the doting husband. He was not then the Academy Award winner. He was not yet comfortable in his own skin," wrote Pearlman, according to Time.com.
Pearlman's book is based on 300 interviews, which include Shaquille O’Neal, former Lakers teammates like Rick Fox, and Bryant’s coach, Hall of Famer Phil Jackson. One instance from 2003, shows Bryant in truly poor light. Jackson called him a "juvenile narcissist" in his interview.
"The truth is nobody wanted to play with Kobe," O’Neal says in the book. Former NBA center Olden Polynice told the journalist that the feud between O'Neal and his younger teammate, Bryant, became so extreme that he wanted to be done with Bryant. "If Shaq got loose he would have killed Kobe Bryant," Polynice says in Three-Ring Circus. "I am not exaggerating… He wanted to end Kobe’s life at that moment," he added. However, the two NBA greats patched up their relationship in later years.
A former player, Eric Chenowith, who played collegiately at the University of Kansas and was in Lakers training camp in Hawaii, spoke to Pearlman. Chenowith said that during an off-day outing, he felt a hand pushing the back of his head. "Rook, you better get me my motherf-cking ice cream," Bryant told him. While Bryant referred to him as a rookie, he wasn't one as he had been drafted by the New York Knicks in 2001.
He felt Bryant was trying to humiliate him, and still, he walked over to an ice cream truck to fetch Bryant, already a three-time champ, what he wanted. "You better f-cking run!" Bryant said. "Don’t walk. Run."
"Kobe was a complete prick," said Chenowith before the helicopter crash, which killed the superstar and his beloved daughter Gianna. "Not only is he a douchebag, he’s a douchebag who’s a prick. If he knows he can get something from you, he’ll treat you with respect. If there’s nothing in it for him, he can’t give a sh-t," added the former player.
Pearlman told thescore.com that Bryant's single-minded focus not only offended people at times but was also problematic in his interaction with people in his social circle. "He was always a ridiculously hard worker. The one thing about Kobe Bryant was it almost rubbed people the wrong way by how hard he worked and how almost robotic he seemed at times. But his work ethic from the beginning was a different level," he said.
As a teenager in the team, his introduction had set him apart, writes Pearlman. "Yo, I’m Kobe. Kobe Bryant. I’m from PA — went to Lower Merion High School, dominated everything." (Pause) "I just want y’all to know, nobody’s gonna punk me. I’m not gonna let anyone in the NBA punk me. So be warned," he told his team, according to Essentiallysports.com.
The sportswriter also called Bryant a bully. "He would bully you until he realized he couldn't bully you. So a guy like [Mike] Penberthy wouldn’t take it. One of the things about Kobe I didn't like is he seemed to take a certain pleasure in bullying or beating up on undrafted rookie free agents. If those guys stood up to him, it was over. But (Kobe) was young. You know, 17 years old when he was drafted, very immature. So it wasn't like his behavior wasn't understandable," he told thescore.com.
During the early years, people who knew him thought of him as mean, arrogant, and aloof, but he had refashioned himself to a better man, a caring father, and a champion of women’s sports. In later years, Bryant was someone people looked up to on and off-court. He probably would have reflected on his past behavior and felt remorse if life had given him a chance to live out his full life.