Thursday, August 14, 2008
Criticisms of Kobe unnecessary
I promised I wasn't going to write anything else about Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the summer (lest I be required to change the name of this site to blackmamba24.com). But the anti-Kobe contingency on the blogosphere has forced my hand.
Even in Beijing, China, where he is currently serving as one of the leaders on our national basketball team in its quest to reclaim gold, Bryant is drawing unfair criticism from his compatriots back home.
He scored 18 points and made half of his shots in Team USA's 92-69 win over Greece early Thursday morning, proving that he can in fact still play this game of basketball. But if you had read the blogs and their message boards after our first two tourney games versus China and Angola, and didn't know any better, you'd have thought he had suddenly turned into Willie Mays falling down in the outfield in the 1973 World Series.
We've reached the point with Kobe where he has two sub-par outings in August on an Olympic All-Star team, in games that his team won by a total of 52 points, and people are tearing his game apart. And not only are they tearing his game apart, they're dropping him in rank. And not only are they dropping him in rank, but they are absolutely basking in the concocted oportunity to do so.
The Kobe haters are out in full effect, no doubt, and even for them this is bad. It's embarrassing. I've seen Kobe get criticized for shooting too much and shooting too little; I've seen Kobe get criticized for scoring 81 points, a month after getting criticized for scoring 62 points in three quarters and then sitting out the fourth rather than trying to score potentially 81 points.
But I don't think any of those criticisms were as stupid as the one's he's been receiving this week.
In Team USA's series of exhibition games leading up to the real deal, Kobe was second on the team in scoring, but more importantly, since he joined the team Kobe has embraced the role of defensive stopper. Just as he did to Brazil's Leandro Barbosa last summer in the FIBA tournament, Kobe put the clamps on Lithuania's Sarunas Jasikevicius, taking him out of the game from the start and allowing his team to jump out to a 24-5 lead.
No, Jasikevicius in not a big NBA star. He's not a little NBA star. He's a middling NBA player.
But he lit up Team USA for 28 points and seven three-pointers in an opening round victory over America four years ago in Athens, and the point is that Kobe's defense at the point of attack, his ability to basically elimate the opposing team's best perimeter player, is where the U.S.'s key to dominance starts. Success in international basketball is predicated on strong guard play, and it wasn't too long ago that the U.S. made Jasikevicius look like Steve Nash and Carlos Arroyo look like Isiah Thomas. I don't care how many times people say he got beat off the dribble against Angola, those days are now over.
Kobe shot 10-27 from the field in the Americans' first two official games in Beijing, including 1-15 from deep but not that deep. That's terrible. I don't dispute that. But since when did individual statistics matter when your team is winning by an average of 26 points? On a team of stars? Has Kobe really been surpassed by LeBron AND Wade after only two games? Do two games, even at the putrid percentages he's shot, constitute a true slump, even for someone like Kobe? Isn't it more likely that they were just an abberation? Haven't his selflessness, effort on defense, and unwavering intensity been the most important added ingredient to the team? Have we even come close to losing a game since he first stepped foot on the court for us last summer? Doesn't he deserve a pass for a couple of off nights? Even from the famed and relentless Kobe Haters?
Now, surely some of you will read this and dismiss it with some statement resembling, " Here we go again, another Kobe Lover who can't stand for his boyfriend to be criticized." But the truth is that none of these men representing our country deserve to be bashed for playing two poor games in blowout wins, especially not the MVP of the team. Of course, it's unlikely any of them would be. A world away, his attackers desperately seek for a way to vilify him and bask in even his most irrelevant of misfires.
'Tis the life of Kobe, I guess.