When he’s not busy kicking soccer balls all over the place, Kobe Bryant is settling in to his role as one of the NBA’s elder statesmen. He’s played 14 seasons, won five titles and an MVP, so he’s earned it. Plus, in his later years, Kobe’s abandoned his youthful Michael Jordan act and remade himself as a profane, straight-shooting kind of dude who tells it like it is/dresses up in urban pilgrim gear. It’s been quite the transformation.

Kobe’s latest edict? A referendum on how we should treat LeBron James. From ESPN, via I Am a GM:

George Smith: There was a lot of venom towards the Heat and, in particular, towards LeBron JamesĀ  What did you make of that?

Kobe Bryant: I think people need to lay off that kid. That’s what I think. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well playing with the Olympic team. I think people need to just back up off of him. Just let him play. Let him live his life. Let him make his decisions. Let him mature as a player. It’s tough to be under the microscope like that all the time. So, I would like everybody to just kind of back-off of him and let him play.

If there’s anybody who can relate to LeBron James’ career, it’s Kobe Bryant. From leaving high school for the pros to being the best player in the world to being the most hated player in the league, there are a lot of similarities between the two. So it’s safe to say Kobe understands what LeBron is going through, and that’s why he’s able to offer a level-headed take on the situation.

However, the problem with backing off of LeBron James is that he invites a lot of criticism upon himself. For all of his media mogul aspirations, he’s prone to saying some incredibly dumb things when he’s behind a mic. Plus, it seems like he gets all kinds of bad advice. Why else would he be talked in to “The Decision?” Kobe’s right that we should probably chill on the LeBron bashing, but LeBron needs to make it not so easy.

When you’re the biggest star in the world, people are going to respond to whatever you do. That’s the nature of being the biggest star in the world. When LeBron gave up on the villain act halfway through last season, and instead focused on playing basketball, the entire conversation changed. It’s possible to not rag on LeBron. He just needs to make it feasible.