Say what you will about Kobe Bryant the person.
Put it this way, he doesn't exactly fit the Thunder mold of having ballplayers who are good guys with salt-of-the-earth character.
But Kobe the ballplayer is a different story.
Kobe the ballplayer is to be revered. Kobe the ballplayer is to be admired. Kobe the ballplayer is the longing of every NBA team and fan.
The reason: his competitiveness.
On the day the Lakers come to town to play the Thunder, Kobe's laserlike focus on winning is sure to be on display. I'm not suggesting that the Lakers will win. On the contrary, I suspect the Thunder will roll. Oklahoma City is mowing down opponents while Los Angeles is struggling since Kobe's return from that devastating Achilles injury.
But rest assured, Kobe will make it interesting.
For starters, he's likely to be guarding Russell Westbrook some. That's because the Lakers are without a healthy point guard. Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar were already sidelined, and the Lakers announced Thursday that starting point guard Steve Blake will miss at least six weeks with a torn ligament in his right elbow.
Hello, Kobe the point guard.
Westbrook and those rocket engine legs should dominate, but Kobe will make him work.
That's the kind of competitor Kobe is.
I mean, the guy is 35 years old, ancient by NBA standards. Had any other player of his advanced age had his Achilles pop the way Kobe's did last spring, that would've been it.
But that was never a consideration for Kobe.
After surgery on April 13 repaired his completely torn Achilles, a return to the court was estimated at six to nine months. But six weeks later, he was walking on a treadmill in an anti-gravity chamber to lessen the exercise's impact. A month after that, he was shooting free throws at the Lakers' practice facility. And a few weeks after that, he was running in that anti-gravity chamber.
On Oct. 9, Kobe was cleared to participate in all activities, no restrictions.
Recovery time: under six months.
That shows just how driven this guy is.
Two months later, Kobe stepped back on the court to play against some of the most freakishly gifted athletes in the world.
Granted, his return to the Lakers hasn't gone smoothly. In two games since he came back, they are winless and discombobulated. They are scoring 21 points less per 100 possessions with Bryant on the court than without him, so says ESPN Stats and Info.
But if you're the Lakers, you much prefer life with Kobe than without.
He is obsessive about winning.
A couple years back, the Lakers met the Mavs in the playoffs. That was the year that Dallas would go on to win the title, and in the second round, it obliterated Los Angeles. Swept the Lakers, actually.
But Kobe's resolve never wavered. Not on the court. Not in the locker room. Not in the press conferences.
He believed that the Lakers could win when no one else gave them a chance. Some might say that's foolhardy, but that's the type of leadership that every team craves.
Sure, Kobe isn't warm and fuzzy. He isn't inviting the guys over to his place. He isn't doing movie nights or bowling tournaments. Truth be told, he's way more likely to call them out in public than buy them a beer. But every guy Kobe plays with knows that he'll run through a wall if that's what it takes to win.
That's what makes Kobe the ballplayer so respectable.
If you're looking for role models for your kids or real-life examples for your Sunday school class, look somewhere other than Kobe the person. But if you're interested in winning ballgames in the NBA, you pray for someone like Kobe the ballplayer.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.