Hey Laker fans, it's time to do yourselves a favor and set Kobe free

When are you finally going to get it?

When are you Lakers fans finally going to realize that Kobe Bryant doesn't like you nearly as much as you like him?

When are you going to get it into your painfully loyal souls that Bryant has taken everything you believe about him, casually wadded it up and tossed it on the floor as he heads out of town.

You're not his soul mate, you're his sweat towel.

He has trivialized your loyalty, toyed with your faith and trampled on your tradition.

And still you beg the Lakers not to trade him?

When you are finally going to get it?

Kobe Bryant just doesn't want to leave the Lakers, he wants to leave you.

You, the guy from El Monte who spends his tax refund on a one-tenth share of an upper-bowl season ticket? Bryant has publicly and repeatedly devalued your investment.

You, the woman from Torrance with the oversized No. 24 jersey? Bryant has publicly and repeatedly damaged the credibility of that uniform.

And, you, the Riverside father and son who can't afford tickets but cheer for all the Lakers on television? Bryant has publicly and repeatedly ripped those players.

You say you love Bryant because he is entertaining.

What has happened in the last several weeks is not good entertainment. Blowing up the family car in anger over a sputtering engine is not good entertainment.

At this moment, Kobe Bryant is not Magic Johnson, he is Paris Hilton. He is not Jerry West, he is Lindsay Lohan.

He is not the old showtime Hollywood, he is the new spoiled Hollywood, and again I ask, this is entertainment?

You say you love Bryant because he is a winner.

Leveling your organization is not the move of a winner. Whining and crying publicly for a trade that will force the Lakers into accepting something less than full value is not the actions of a winner.

Tim Duncan quietly allowing a tiny little dude from France to win the NBA Finals MVP, that is the move of a winner.

Dwyane Wade's quiet acceptance of Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat, that is the move of a winner.

Three years after being anointed as the solution, Kobe Bryant has decided instead to be the problem, and I ask, this is a winner?

The latest Bryant news would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

Just like those women who show their private parts to paparazzi, Bryant has profanely ripped the Lakers to two strangers in a parking lot.

The two guys videotaped the rant on a digital camera that doubles as a video recorder, and they are now trying to sell access to the alleged tape for a couple of bucks a pop.

"It's fair game, him talking to people in the middle of the street," said Rob, one of the parking lot guys.

Rob, who refused to give his last name, played the tape for me over the phone Tuesday night.

Yeah, it sounded like Bryant. Yeah, it was short but nasty.

Two things come to mind here.

First, why would anybody pay to hear Kobe Bryant rip the Lakers when he's spent the last month doing it for free?

Two, if Bryant hates the Lakers so badly that he would trash them to bystanders in a parking lot, do you really think he should be running the team on the court?

All of which leads to the one question that has been as persistent and peculiar as Bryant's mouth.

Why do Lakers fans still love him?

"After the recent mediocre seasons, Kobe is all they have left," said Dr. Todd Boyd, a USC professor of critical studies who has written extensively on sports and culture. "He has a Hollywood game. He is a Laker in every sense of the word. The prospects of him not being here is just too depressing."

It's startling, indeed, how Lakers fans are willing to forgive Bryant for a petulance that was never this bad in O'Neal. It's amazing how they are willing to forget every odd twist to his unsettling career here for a chance to watch him take one more shot.

The second half of the late-season game in Sacramento. The fourth quarter of the playoff game in Phoenix. The practice fights, the Karl Malone phone calls, the Phil Jackson expose.

And, of course, Colorado.

"What's amazing is how he's rehabilitated his image since Colorado," said Boyd. "Here in Los Angeles, it's like it never happened. Some people in other parts of the country remember, but not here."

Think about it. Counting his latest tirades, Bryant's career hasn't been that much cleaner than Allen Iverson's.

"Allen Iverson's past is never that far behind him," said Boyd. "But it's like Kobe gets a free pass."

Boyd acknowledged that, in this case, part of the reason for Bryant's support is that fans agree with him. And so do I. The Lakers have made some awful moves in trying to surround him with players that can win.

"A lot of fans feel like, hey, Kobe is right, and he is right," said Boyd. "But, see, these problems he talks about, he is partly responsible for them."

And that's where the dichotomy lies.

It has been reported here that Kobe Bryant recently met with Jerry Buss in Spain and reiterated his desire to be traded.

Three summers ago, Buss was also in Europe during a tumultuous time for the Lakers. What if Bryant had met with Buss then? What if he had used that meeting to promise that he could play with O'Neal?

Buss never would have traded O'Neal. The dynasty would have been intact for at least one, if not two more seasons.

While Kobe Bryant didn't cause this mess, he certainly didn't do anything to prevent it. And now that he has chosen to damage it beyond repair, it is time he leave it.

You will miss him. But, clearly, he won't miss you.

Bill Plaschke is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times

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