Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'm a Hater

photo caption: Breakable

A Kobe hater, I mean. And I’m not talking about the sublime beef you get for $30 an ounce at Cut in Los Angeles. Seriously, who could hate that? I mean the enigmatic shooting guard for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. I was working in the biz when both Shaq and Kobe broke into the League. Shaq was always a favorite of mine -- he gave great interview and he was funny and due to a well-traveled but essentially lonely childhood (his stepdad was in the military), had an encyclopedic knowledge of 80's pop songs (Jesse's Girl, anybody?).

In the Lakers locker room, Shaq was the class clown, the Big Leader. It was his team, even as the upstart high school Jordan-wannabe crashed into town unafraid of taking post-season clutch shots that ended up bearly grazing the rim.

Kobe was always the outsider. Old news to anybody who follows this stuff but he was very clear he didn't want to fit in with the boys and so he always kept to himself, a decision that colored his whole career. One person close to the team the last few years told a friend of mine about two bench players who would, when they were on the court together, play "keep away" from Bryant because they knew that passing the ball to him meant it wasn't coming back.

No doubt the kid has skills. No doubt he can pretty much score at will but where is the love and the joy? His game feels so devoid of anything but that Gibraltar-sized chip on his shoulder that's as obvious as Quasimodo’s hump. Remember this is the guy who twice in his career stopped shooting in a game to prove that his teammates couldn’t win without him shooting a lot, to prove that his chucking up shot-after-silly-shot was really team play because so many of those crazy shots actually went through the net. Does anyone but me wonder if those new Adidas "You're not a fool, are you?" ads are not-so-subtle digs on Kobe's game?

This year he’s getting lauded by his one-time critics because he’s taking fewer shots a game (the TNT announcers the other day said it was eight less a game). Sure his numbers are down, but his team is winning. I’ve watched him too, seeing the very unusual sight of him passing to an open teammate. I think that’s just great but does changing his game mean he’s changed his selfish ways? This Hater doesn't think so.

I’ve never seen Kobe bark at so many of his teammates, for example. I mean really get in their face with the “what the fuck were you doing don’t you know how to play the game, man?” shit. If this is his idea of being a leader, I have a feeling it’s going to get real old. Real fast.

Did I tell you my favorite quote of the year? Right after Gilbert Arenas threw down 60 on Kobe and the Lakers (in a game that was tight and went into overtime which means his team needed everyone of those points), the Formerly Known As Ocho says Agent Zero was wrong to take so many “bad” shots. This from the one player in the league that will chuck up a shot from anywhere at any freaking time. I’m not sure if that’s irony, hubris or just plain obtuseness.

Look, most of the time when Kobe gets into his jack up the rock mode, it’s bad for his team. Occasionally, he gets lucky (like Son of Bill’s tip-in the other night against Golden State off a wild shot that saved the game and Kobe’s ass).

What I’m talking about was perfectly illustrated last week when Kobe and Kompany got bitch-slapped by the Mavs, a team that is trying to shed its penchant for being fragile behind the play of Dead-Eye Dirk Nowitzki. Down by double-digits but making a mini-run, Kobe decides he's going to lay a facial on his old buddy (and former teammate) Devean George and he flat-out blows the dunk so bad the ball caroms 50 feet in the air and lands in the hands of the smallest player on the court, Anthony "Pine Rider" Johnson who flushed it home like he's Nate Robinson or something.

Kobe, feeling dissed and abused, then lets loose a long three ball just to show the missed dunk doesn't bother him when in reality jacking up a three with 20 seconds still on the shot clock and a little MO going his team's way says exactly the opposite.

You could hear the CLANK back in Philly. When the Mavs run with the rebound and the German hits a mid-range jumper (a shot he now owns all by himself -- all due respect to Jerry West -- and not just because nobody else takes it anymore) the lead is back to plus-20 and the game is essentially in the ol' ice chest. So what does Mamba do? He dribbles the length of the floor, ignores his teammates as if he's playing one-on-five and heads straight for George, who lets him waltz by for an uncontested dunk. All is well again. Kobe can pump out his chest and pretend he's the man. Yawn.

It was by far the most perfect expression of who Kobe is and always will be, no matter how many fewer shots he takes in a game.

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