“Transcendent skill and will long ago enabled Kobe Bryant to earn respect from his peers,” gushes USA Today’s Jon Saraceno. “However, after a series of professional and personal missteps, finding universal admiration has been more difficult than swishing a buzzer-beater from halfcourt.” This might have something to do with what Dr. Jack Ramsay diplomatically calls “the personal encounter he had in Colorado”.

A recent Los Angeles Times story quoted a senior talent agency manager, whose firm ranks celebrities and athletes as endorsers. Matt Delzell of the Davie Brown agency said his firm ranked Bryant high in awareness but he scored below average in several categories dealing with trust, appeal and influence.

Only one NBA player, Ron Artest, had a lower negative “Q rating” for popularity, the Times reported.

Five years ago in July, Bryant was arrested and charged with raping a hotel employee in his suite in Eagle, Colo., where he was awaiting knee surgery. Bryant, who is married, admitted having sex with the 19-year-old woman, but the case was dismissed after she refused to testify. She filed a civil lawsuit, and the parties settled out of court.

Michael Jordan, too, had potentially embarrassing indiscretions but did not suffer with an adoring public, a sometimes-fawning media or corporate America. His idolatry was such that any warts, including a messy divorce and an admitted fondness for high-stakes gambling, remained under a layer of makeup.

“I never heard one arena (chant), ‘Jordan sucks,’ ” Jeff Van Gundy says.

But in the Lakers’ Western Conference semifinal series against the Utah Jazz, a Jazz fanatic stood up as Bryant stood at the free throw line, facing his direction. The young man held up an inflatable female doll with a sign hung around its neck: “Kobe Not Room Service Again!”

During Game 1 of the Finals, some Celtics fans in the upper balcony chanted, “No means no! No means no!” when Bryant stood at the free throw line.

Doc Rivers is one of many in the NBA who are bothered by the public’s lack of forgiveness and outright ridicule. “It’s a shame ” it bugs me,” he says. “He is one of the nicest guys in the league, one of the most intelligent guys in sports. He has great compassion for our game. He studies it and he’s serious about it.”

The Jordan comparison is a bit shaky — the extent of MJ’s marital problems wasn’t fully publicized until after his playing career. None of Jordan’s indiscretions received nearly as much coverage as the rape allegations against Bryant. While Kobe was never convicted of rape, the details surrounding the case — and the speed with which his accuser’s identity was revealed — were not particularly obscure, even in the pre-TMZ era. Will Perdue says “Kobe has always done something to screw up his public image,” but I suspect the rape allegations will dog him long after the general public has forgotten Bryant’s trade demands or diss of Andrew Bynum.