Very good question, I wonder this myself.
Kobe Bryant has had his career retrospectively viewed in a better light than any other superstar I have witnessed in NBA history.
During his prime, he was reviled and often hated for many good reasons:
-He chased Shaq out of the Lakers
-Phil Jackson himself said that Kobe was uncoachable
-Rape trial case
-Blamed his teammates for pretty much every loss and was a general asshole
-Demanded to be traded constantly when he had a bad team from 2005–2007
-Quit on his team on the Game 7 of 2006 Round 1 vs the Suns to spite Phil Jackson
But after he won his 2010 championship, now he’s seen in a quite different light. None of the above are ever brought up again by anyone. The media these days NEVER posts about any of the points mentioned above. They only ever post about Kobe’s 81 point game, outscoring Mavs in 3 quarters and 60 point last game now. And his ‘legendary’ work ethic. The media pretty much never posts negative stories about Kobe after he won his 5th championship.
Kobe fans especially like to push:
-all time great work ethic
-killer instinct, ‘mamba mentality’
-clutch (even if the stats disagree)
-robbed of MVPs (even though he barely made the playoffs in his prime)
-media hated Kobe (even though he got many many undeserved all-def selections)
-carried a team full of scrubs (definitely not true but thats what they believe)
-conspiracy by the NBA to stop Kobe from getting more championships by not giving him CP3 (this is venturing into the realm of paranoia now)
And you can see how his death elevates him even more into his deity-god status amongst his already cult-like fanbase. Since some Kobe fans already saw him as the GOAT after the 2010 championship win, his less than stellar post 2010 resume never affected their opinion of him, and his tragic death just solidified his standing.
In Kobe fan’s minds, here’s how his career went:
1996–1999: He was a bench player but that just show’s how hard Kobe had it, that he went from a bench player to a starter! his career trajectory solidifies his GOAT argument!
2000–2002: He was equal on par with Shaq! Sure Shaq won those Finals MVPs but Kobe was just as important! We’re going to pretend Shaq’s rebounding numbers don’t matter and just look at points scored. And I have to mention that in 2000, Kobe was definitely a sidekick. He averaged 15 PPG in that Finals series to Shaq’s 38 PPG. And in 2002, they came very close to losing to a terrific Kings team. So 1 of Kobe’s 5 rings he was definitely a sidekick and 1 more was arguably in question. Think about this next time Kobe fans like to talk about his 5 rings all the time.
2003–2004: Kobe and Shaq had drama, not his fault. Also Pistons were a really really good defensive team. We’re going to pretend Kobe’s performance this Finals never happened.
2005–2007: Had the worst team ever. Not his fault. Should have MVP just for leading that team to the playoffs. We’re going to pretend Lamar Odom didn’t exist on this team and just talk about Smush Parker and Kwame Brown as if that’s all Kobe had.
2008–2010: Kobe’s GOAT argument is solidified. Led a team full of scrubs to 2 rings. We’re going to pretend Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest weren’t that good.
2011–2016: Kobe was injured, so his playoff losses or bad team record isn’t his fault. Dwight was too soft and Nash were injured. We’re just going to pretend this part of his career doesn’t matter. His career ended in 2010 just like how Jordan fans pretend his career ended in 1998.
So yeah, I can see that if you ignore most of Kobe’s bad years and performances, believe that there was a conspiracy by the media to rob Kobe of awards and pretend that he was equally important as Shaq, then he has a case in the GOAT convo.
I’m not exaggerating this post at all btw, this is truly what a lot of Kobe fans believe, and I’ve had so many arguments with them that I already know all their beliefs.