Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kobe, Kobe, Kobe

Poor Kobe. I was gonna wait until the dust settled on last night's massacre before I gave my piece, so I could guage from which angle I would attack it, but who was I kidding: Kobe is ALWAYS the story.

We could talk about the Celtics defense, which cemented itself as historically good with their python-like (or Mamba-like)suffocation of the high-scoring Lakers. We could talk about KG getting Mighty Joe Young off his back, or Little Shuttlesworth hitting 22 3's in the series, or P-Squared going to another level historically, or Doc Rivers putting a sock in Bill Simmons' mouth. We could talk about the Big Three as a whole, how they were brought together to accomplish a specific goal and did it through hard work, unselfishness, and a desperate commitment to winning.

Or we could talk about Phil Jackson getting worked by a speedbag, or the changes the Lakers must make in order to become tougher and better defensively (we have to make a move for Ron Artest).

We'll touch on those things here and there, but ultimately, it's all about Kobe. You know it and I know it.

He was so somber at the postgame press conference last night that you'd have thought he was speaking at a funeral. Other than losing a close family member or something like that, is there anything that could make Kobe more despondent than finally winning his first MVP and getting to the Finals without Shaq, only to see it all blow up in smoke?

Kobe's tone at the podium was that of a man who realizes that until he wins a 'chip without Tom Hanks (Big), he can never even begin to be considered the greatest. And we all know that Kobe is driven by the pursuit of just that. Kobe may not be the most self-aware person on the planet, but he is in touch with his goals and his desired legacy, as well as what he has to do to inherit it. He understands perceptions.

If Kobe weren't as good as he is, this wouldn't be a problem. If he didn't show so many flashes of Jordan, nobody would make the comparison. If he didn't have such rare ability he probably wouldn't have the same aspirarions. But Kobe walks like Jordan, he's picked up a lot of the on-court mannerisms of Jordan, he wanted his own team so he could win titles as The Man like Jordan, he wants to be the G.O.A.T. so he has to surpass Jordan, plus he's got talent and skills like Jordan, so he's judged against Jordan and Jordan alone.

He's held to a higher standard than Kevin McHale and Scottie Pippen, two Hall-of-Fame sidekicks with multiple rings who aren't thought of as top-tier legends.

He's even held to a higher standard than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain, unequivocal legends of the sport.

He's held to the standard of Air.

Of course, most people don't want anyone to be better than Jordan, especially not Kobe, whom they don't like, anyway, so when he fails they jump all over him. Jordan's team wouldn't have blown a 24-point lead in the Finals. Jordan's team wouldn't have lost an elimination game by 39 points. And so on and so forth.

Maybe if people thought he was a good guy, they'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Kobe didn't play like an MVP this series, but it's not his fault that his No. 2 guy is soft and can't hold onto the ball, or that his No. 3 guy is wildly inconsistent, or that nobody on his team other than Derek Fisher is mentally tough or that his team has no heart or that they play no defense. Of course, everybody thinks he's a phony a-hole. Which brings me to my main point:

I feel sorry for Kobe because this is just one more moment of disappointment in what may just be a star-crossed career, and because I don't think he's just a complete a-hole. Some of the things Kobe has done are indefensible, but for the most part, I don't think he means to hurt anyone. I'm serious. You know how he never seems to be able to avoid controversy, no matter what he does? I don't think he's crazy, just that he had a unique upbringing and is wired a little differently than 99.999% of the athletes out there, and can't help but behave in a certain way. There are certain parts of Kobe's personality that mix together and make people dislike him, but I don't think Kobe bleeds jerk, like, say, Barry Bonds. Yet when he's down he's treated with a similar disdain.

This was supposed to be Kobe's year. Then, just when you thought it was his wasn't. Now it's just another summer for people to bash him. Starting to think his story is destined to be a sad one.

You gotta feel for the guy. Or at least I do.

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