Thursday, April 3, 2008

On Being Kobe Bryant

A lot of Lakers fans are getting worked up over the possibility that Kobe Bryant's going to win his first MVP ... and I wish they'd get over it. I really don't believe it's going to happen. In the history of the NBA, no one has ever played at such a high pitch, for so many years, without winning it -- except Kobe. Kobe Bryant, the best player in basketball for at least the last six years, has never even come in second. A couple years back, in '05-06, over twenty writers left Kobe completely off their ballots -- as in, they didn't think he was one of the top 5 MVP candidates in the league.

It won't surprise me to see that trend continue this year -- it won't shock me to see Kobe come in fourth this year, behind Chris Paul, Lebron James, and Kevin Garnett.

If Kobe does win ... it'll be because the anti-Kobe vote (as opposed to the pro-Paul/James/Garnett vote) ... gets split. Make no mistake ... if Kobe Bryant and I were the only two players in the NBA, I'd like my chances for MVP, with the current crowd of writers who vote that award. The anybody-but-Kobe crowd is a lot larger than the pro-Kobe crowd, among those voters...

Early in Kobe's career he suffered for playing next to Shaq. During their three-year run of championships, they and Tim Duncan were the three best players in the league -- despite which between Shaq and Kobe they accounted for only one MVP, Shaq's in 2000. I'd argue (and did at the time) that Kobe was more responsible for those three championships than Shaq. (Not but what Shaq deserved his regular season MVP in 2000 -- and probably one or two in the years previous to that, too.)

Frequently people point out that Shaq won the Finals MVP three years running; but in each of those three years, the Finals wasn't the most difficult series the Lakers played. The East was weak and the Lakers beat up on the Pacers 4-2, on the 76ers 4-1, and on the Nets 4-0. What each of those three teams had in common was that they lacked a center who could slow Shaq down in any meaningful way. The Pacers had Rik Smits at the end of his career; the 76ers had 90 year old Dikembe Mutumbo and Todd MacCulloch; and the Nets had ... Todd MacCulloch, who signed with them as a free agent in the 2001 offseason. Predictably, Shaq tore through them.

The story was different when Shaq faced big men who could make him work. The Lakers most difficult series in 2000 was the Portland series, where the Lakers were down fifteen points early in the fourth quarter of Game 7 to a very good Blazers team, before beginning the biggest Game 7 fourth quarter comeback in the history of playoff basketball. There's a good chance that without that game, the Lakers 3-year run wouldn't have happened ... and it's worth looking at the box score for that game, and seeing who led the team in points and assists ... and rebounds ... and blocked shots:

Shaquille O'Neal: 18 pts, 5 assists, 9 rebounds, 1 blocked shot
Kobe Bryant: 25 points, 7 assists, 11 rebounds, 4 blocked shots

In 2001 the Lakers put together the best post-season run ever -- 15 & 1. They swept the first three teams they faced -- Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio -- before losing one game to the 76ers in the Finals. (If I recall, it was the only time a team had won a championship while playing 4 straight 50+ win teams.) Despite losing a game to them, the 76ers weren't the best team the Lakers face in the post-season; the Spurs were. The Spurs won 58 games that year. They had David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Sean Elliot, Derek Anderson, Malik Rose, Terry Porter, Avery Johnson -- a deep, veteran squad. Had they gotten past the Lakers, they'd have handled the 76ers ... but they didn't get past the Lakers, principally because of Kobe. Kobe killed the Spurs in that series. They started that series off in San Antonio -- mostly because of injuries, the Lakers only won 56 games that year themselves -- and beat the Spurs behind 45 points by Kobe Bryant in the first game, and 28 in the second. Then they went home and humiliated the Spurs in Los Angeles in two straight games -- the Lakers were a very, very good team that year, when healthy -- and Kobe didn't lead the team in either of those two home games. But -- again -- the most dangerous team the Lakers faced that year was in the Western Conference, and had an MVP award been handed out for that series, there's no doubt who'd have won it.

2002's the only year I'd have handed the MVP to Shaq; the Lakers most difficult series that year was against the Sacramento Kings (you remember, the one Ralf Nader thought important enough to lead a national movement over...). It went 7 games (and overtime of the 7th game) and in the four games the Lakers won, Shaq was superb. Kobe led the team in scoring in the first win, but in the next 3 it was Shaq, and he had 9, 18, 17, and 13 rebounds in those four games. More importantly, Shaq, a legendarily bad free throw shooter, shot 13 of 17 in Game 6, and 11 of 15 in Game 7. It was Shaq at his best -- the sorts of games that make you wonder what he might have done had he worked at the game the way Magic or Jordan or Kobe have, over the course of his career. He was a superb talent, in an astonishing body ...

~~~~~

No regular season MVPs for Kobe. Despite stuff like this --

"If I had to pick the single greatest player on the planet, I take Kobe Bryant, without hesitation." -- Michael Jordan

"At the end of the day Kobe will go down as the greatest player to have ever played the game. His mentality, his approach -- he tries to seek and destroy. There is really nothing he can't do on the basketball court. The main thing is his will. He is not satisfied with just beating you. He wants to put the dagger in you. I think that is a lost art to a certain degree in this league." -- Mark Jackson

"Kobe is more skilled than Jordan, a better shooter. Michael has bigger hands, and that helped him a lot." -- Phil Jackson, who coached both

"Kobe is the most talented in the game on both ends of the floor" -- Gregg Popovich

"Kobe is the best basketball player in the world." -- Charles Barkley

"I'm not saying that he's the most valuable player, but he's certainly the best player. And it's not even close. He is utterly dominant." - Mike D'Antoni

After the 81 point game: "I don't know if anyone could have stopped him last night. It's so senseless to me to say he shouldn't take over like that. You give the same amount of shots to everybody else and they're not making that many, I know it. Players are jealous of greatness. Kobe is a unique talent and a unique person. His belief that he can jump to the moon is never going to change. But I admire him, what he's been able to overcome. You would think he would be a fair-haired man of the NBA with what's he's already done. But he's taken a fairly good battering." -- Jerry West

... and so he has.

~~~~~

Was it because of this? In the summer of 2003, Kobe was accused of raping a woman whose name I won't use here, despite it being fairly common knowledge at this point. After his accuser got nailed lying repeatedly on a variety of points, and after her rape kit came back with the DNA of two different men in it -- the second man's DNA apparently, and there's no genteel way to put it, contributed after Kobe's -- the accuser quit the criminal case and took a multi-million dollar payment to settle the civil case. And Kobe walked.

It's a nasty episode. The best case scenario is that Kobe cheated on his wife with a woman who took it as an opportunity to blackmail him for millions. The worst case scenario is that he raped a woman so crazy that she then went off and had sex with someone else on her way to have her rape kit taken....

Nasty episode ... but the truth, and this may anger some ... the truth is, I don't think most sportswriters are holding on to this. Maybe a few, but it's not what's kept Kobe from an MVP. Most of the press had a negative view of Kobe before that happened, and the rape allegations are so unrelated to what goes on on the court (the basketball court, that is) ... that I'm really skeptical that this is what's at the core of it.

Almost from the moment Kobe Bryant walked on the court, he encountered a level of bile that was really unusual. He was polite, soft spoken, well mannered, didn't talk badly of others (unlike, say, Shaq) ... and sportswriters hated the guy. From Day 1, they did. He came in during the closing days of the Michael Jordan Era. ESPN had just named Jordan the greatest athlete ... of the 20th Century. Ahead of Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali and Pele and Jim Thorpe. (And in basketball, ahead of Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. Call me a Lakers homer if you like; Magic and Russell are #1 and #2 on my list of best all-time basketball players; Jordan's #3.) We were treated to paens along the lines of "we shall never see his like again," and so on. Jordan was "our generation's Babe Ruth."

The problem wasn't that Kobe had been compared to Jordan; that's happened a lot. Harold Miner ("baby Jordan" was his actual nickname.) Penny Hardaway. Grant Hill. Vince Carter. Tracy McGrady. The list of "Next Jordans" has been huge, and none of them got the bile that Kobe did. Because they weren't the next Jordan, and (with the possible exception of Grant Hill, had he not had his career ruined by injury) ... never really had a chance to be.

But Kobe has been. You couldn't put a playing card between the gap between Kobe Bean Bryant and Michael Jeffrey Jordan, as basketball players. Jordan was more efficient overall; Kobe the better offensive player. Jordan better at getting to the rim; Kobe the better shooter overall. Jordan the slighty better defender; Kobe the better dribbler and ball handler. Both of them are murderous cuthroats who wanted to win more than anyone else around them. And it's not the fact that Kobe got compared to Jordan that angered all those sportswriters, back in the day; it's the fact that he held up to the comparison that so enraged them, when their "immortal Jordan" columns were still recent enough to be fresh in people's minds.

(You want to know who we really aren't ever likely to see again? Magic. Yeah, I know, homer, Lakers fan, and so on. I cop to it. But Lebron James is the closest thing we've seen to Magic Johnson, a ball handling big man, and I want to see James win a ring before I start stacking him up next to Magic. Which I think James will do, though he may need to leave the Cavaliers to get there.)

After the sportswriters, Kobe got hammered by his own teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, the master of the passive aggressive, sniping backbite. People have blamed Kobe, his entire career, for the feud with Shaq -- but Shaq's on his fourth team, and he's badmouthed at one time or another virtually everyone he's ever been professionally linked to -- the Orlando Magic and Penny Hardaway; the Lakers, Kobe, and Phil Jackson (and the entire city of Los Angeles, while he was at it: bite me, big man.) Recently, after the trade from Miami, he's sniped at the Heat and Pat Riley.

But during Shaq's prime, he had the fortune and the misfortune to play next to the second or third best player in the game, his first few years with the Lakers; and the best player in the game, his last few. And he hated it, and Kobe, and the better Kobe got, the more Shaq hated him. Until, at the end, Kobe started firing back. The memory everyone has is that Kobe and Shaq feuded the entire time they were in Los Angeles (and in the locker room this may have been true.) But only Shaq was public with his side of the feud, until the very end ... and permitting that to happen was a terrible mistake on Kobe's part. When you've got someone determined to take a fight into the gutter (and if this sounds like a personal observation on my end, you wouldn't be wrong) ... you either get down in the gutter with him, or you walk away, or you lose. So Shaq's side of the story got told, and plenty of people observed that he was childish and petty ... but for years and years he was childish and petty and the only one talking.

~~~~~

And then the dynasty broke up. The Lakers Reloaded squeaked by the Spurs in an astonishing series, and then lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons in 2004 in an equally astonishing five game asskicking. Shaq requested a trade, the Lakers fired Phil Jackson, resigned Kobe, and abruptly the Lakers had to rebuild ....

This, too, was Kobe's fault. Kobe's selfishness broke up the Lakers Dynasty. If you follow sports even casually you've heard this accusation.

It's not true, or at least no more than peripherally true. Shaquille O'Neal requested a trade in the 2004 offseason. Shaq did that. Kobe didn't request the trade for him; Shaq did that. This is, of all the various lies told about Kobe over the years, the one that most perplexes me. "Kobe got Shaq traded." Unless Kobe kidnapped Shaq's children and was holding them hostage, I simply fail to see how that can be true.

Shaq and Jerry Buss, the Lakers' owner, had been fighting all year over the contract extension Shaq wanted. In the pre-season, Shaq screamed at Buss, in public, on the basketball court, "Pay me, mother******!"

... try that with your boss. Let me know how it works out for you. In Shaq's case it came down to the Lakers deciding to rebuild around Kobe, the recognized best player in the game, rather the aging Shaq. And, in retrospect, it was the correct decision. The Lakers today, if healthy, are the most talented team in the league -- Kobe, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. Lamar Odom's probably one of the top 15 forwards (both 3s and 4s) in the league and he's the Lakers #4 option in that lineup. All of those players except Kobe came to the Lakers due to the Lakers decision to trade Shaq -- Bynum came in the draft the following year, after the Lakers missed the playoffs; Odom came directly in trade for Shaq; and Gasol came in trade for Kwame, who came for Caron Butler, who came for Shaq.

So the Lakers decision to rebuild looks wise, in retrospect. And whether it was or was not wise ... it never was Kobe's decision. He didn't deserve the blame he got for it, and he doesn't deserve credit for it today; it was Buss's call, Buss's team, Buss's static and praise, end of day.

~~~~~

And Kobe's still not going to win the MVP barring a major vote-splitting screwup among the anti-Kobe crowd ...

... but he has a shot at a championship this year, for the first time since Shaq left; and the Lakers will probably be the favorites next year, regardless of what happens with the Celtics or Spurs (or Pistons, conceivably) this year. Three more rings for Kobe, to match Jordan's six -- calling it now. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom will be the best front line in the NBA when they're all healthy; Kobe will be the best player in the NBA for another year or two, until Lebron James finally overtakes him. Even after James does (and he will) basketball, as Kobe knows all too well (and always knew, all those years he deferred his game to Shaq, because Shaq was both unable and unwilling to defer in the other direction) ... basketball is a team game: and Kobe's team is set for a hell of a run.

It's better than an MVP. At the end, what really matters are the rings. Another generation of sportswriters will come along, and they'll see what this generation's been too blinded to see, too vain to admit, and too foolish to understand.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dude... I didn't know who you were, but what you are saying is all true and what I had in mind but couldn't put them in words like you to explain to others.
I also don't think Kobe will win the MVP, but I just hope he'd get one someday. It'll be just like Scottie Pippen never getting DOY. Another deserving player losing something that belongs to him.
The only difference is that Pippen was never recognized until later, while Kobe has been recognized but being ignored.
I just hate the fact that may be 20 years later, some kids would say some things like "Dirk(Nash, AI) was better than Kobe. He was an MVP!"

Bryant said...

Things I agree with:

Your evaluation of Kobe's talent. He's an amazing player, and he doesn't get enough credit for it.

MVP this year, hm. I wouldn't think it was a travesty if he got it. I'll tell you what I've seen from him this year that I've never seen before: he's playing with his teammates. He's not being the individual contributor. I will freely admit I never expected to see him work so well with his team.

And in retrospect, I wouldn't be at all surprised if his previous mentality had as much to do with Shaq as anything. Shaq's a jerk. I bet it's hard to be a team player when Shaq's around.

I do, however, think you're wrong in the criteria for MVP. It should go to the most valuable player, not the best guy on the court. To the degree that Garnett has a case for MVP, it's because of what he's meant to the Celtics. Likewise, I don't think Kobe's been robbed in previous years, because I don't think he's been most valuable.

But yeah; I might vote for him this year, if I got a vote. Chris Paul doesn't get my vote. The Hornets are interesting, but they're not a great team. I watched both their games vs. the Celtics. Paul dribbles up, fiddles around for a while, then choses an isolation play and executes it. I want to see more out of him before I anoint him as the next great PG.

Le Bron, you just can't tell. His supporting cast is so awful. I feel for him.

Kobe or Garnett. Hard. They're both doing things this year they never did before; they were both handed better situations which allowed them to execute. I know Celtics Pride is anathema to you, but the way Garnett's infused this team with that spirit... the Garden, this year, has been a special place. And I say that as someone who was sitting in the cheap seats in 1986.

Then again, Kobe's got his team winning too.

Don't call next year until the off-season happens, by the by. If Rondo keeps improving at this rate, he'll be one of the top 10 point guards in the league next year. He is brutally smart and he learned under the one college coach who really knows how to develop traditional point guards. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom is a better offensive front line than Garnett, Pierce, and Perkins... but it's not better defensively. Not at all. And the Lakers are going to need a starting point guard.

And who knows what trades might go down? Not to mention free agency. Oddly enough, the Lakers and the Celtics have both become attractive destinations.

Subrata Sircar said...

Three things about Shaq:
1. He's far more media-savvy than Kobe. It of course helps that he's never been accused (as far as I know) of cheating on his wife or any of the usual professional -athlete-off-the-court stuff, but he's also much better at playing the media game. He's the anti-Bonds in this regard :<)
2. Shaq worked quite hard at his game in college and the early years in the pros (numerous interviews with his Magic and LSU teammates/coaches describing how raw he was and how quickly he picked up his game), and he certainly works hard coming back from various injuries - you don't make it back to the NBA from without a lot of hard work. What I don't know is how hard a worker he is compared to his peers.
3. As far as the Shaq-as-jerk comments ... he might be, he might not. But based purely on documented jerkish behavior, I'd say cheating on your wife (and putting her through the public hell of the rape investigation) is a much bigger sin than swearing at your boss in public.

I can't help but think that you wouldn't be this big a Kobe fan if he didn't play for the Lakers, too :<)

That all said, the Lakers did make the right decision to let go of Shaq, and he is the best player in the league (possibly behind Tim Duncan or LeBron on their best days, but Duncan's on the downslope and LeBron's still getting better).

Oscar Robertson might be the best guard I've ever seen play (even at the tail end of his career). He dominated people effortlessly for years and no one these days seems to remember him. He averaged triple-doubles before they had invented the stat. He would have to be on my short list somewhere with Magic, Jordan ... and probably Kobe, when all is said and done.

Still, the best player I've ever seen would have to be Wilt Chamberlain. There was nothing he couldn't do on the court, Bill Russell notwithstanding. But it's a team game, as you note, and the only team successes he was part of came when his supporting cast was close to the great teams of his era.

By the way, extra points for knowing how many times Wilt fouled out of a game ... ready? That would be ... zero. In over a thousand NBA games, he never fouled out. Not even once, with players draped over him like ill-fitting uniforms; he'd come of the games with bite marks and fist-shaped bruises, but with a win.

When you are only limited on the court by fear of physically injuring the opposition, that's a man among boys and the most dominant player in history.

Steve Perry said...

I dunno, I think the rings aren't as important as the paycheck, and in Kobe's case -- or almost any pro-basketball player's case -- the money you make playing roundball for a few years is enough to keep you in Nikes and pay the rent for the rest of your life, you don't piss it away.

Hard to feel sorry for a guy dragging in more per game than most people make in a year.

With great power comes great responsibility, so sayeth Spider Man, but a lot of the jocks who are rich and lauded don't live up to the Clyde Drexler level. Some of them seem to think that playing ball is a free pass.

Me, I lean toward the thought that Kobe's carnal adventure was non-consensual, and probably because he wasn't used to hearing "No."

J.D. Ray said...

I don't really know from shineola about basketball, and no one's asking me about who's good or who isn't, but if they did, I'd tell them that Bryant was the best player in the NBA. During the Laker's big run many years ago, when most of us in Portland were disappointed with the antics of the "Jail Blazers," there were a lot of Portlanders that became, at least temporarily, Lakers fans. Now that the Blazers have rebuilt, people here are back to supporting he home team.

But like I said, I don't know basketball beyond knowing how to watch a game. But, even if James is the great player you say he is, he just doesn't have the experience that Bryant does. And, compared to Shaq, that everyone got to see so much of during those years he was drenched in press coverage, he's a gentleman. Bryant seems to be on the court to do one thing: play ball.

Jordan probably got recognized as a great player because a) he was, and b) he knew how to work the press. Bryant has had plenty of opportunities to do so. Maybe he doesn't care so much, and just wants to play the game he was obviously born to play.

Dan Moran said...

Anon, pleased to have written something you liked. And yeah, the argument -- "Kobe never won an MVP!" -- I'm hearing it already. I expect to keep hearing it, too, unfortunately.

And yeah, it's ridiculous Pippen never won a DPOY award. He got 8 First Team All Defense nods, which is nice, but Jordan got himself a DPOY award when Pippen was a consistently superior defender (he was better than Kobe is now, too) -- which just proves that trusting sportswriters to vote on sports awards is probably a mistake.

Bryant,

I will freely admit I never expected to see him work so well with his team.

That's reputation trumping fact. Kobe spent the first half of his career subjugating his game to the team -- he didn't seriously start chucking it up until the team around him left him no option. Seriously, this is a guy who took a team starting Kobe, Lamar, Kwame Brown, Luke Walton, and Smush Parker, to 7 games against a superb Phoenix Suns team. Only two years later, Brown and Smush are practically out of the league and Luke is buried deep on the Lakers bench -- no one's ever done more with less, IMO.

Shaq's a jerk. I bet it's hard to be a team player when Shaq's around.

Depends on how bad you want to win. In his prime, he sure made the game easier for everyone around him. I don't know if Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, et al., liked Shaq -- but I'm sure they appreciated playing next to him.

I do, however, think you're wrong in the criteria for MVP.

There is no criteria for MVP. I've heard every possible definition, but the fact is, the NBA has never defined it. It's plainly not "the best player," because that's been Kobe for years. The best player on the best team? That gives you Dirk Nowitzki last year, but explain to me how Steve Nash won the year prior? The Suns finished with 54 wins -- the Pistons, Spurs and Mavs all had 60+ wins that year. The team that would suffer the most if it lost that player? Kobe's the winner again, in '05-06, when he took the afore-mentioned Lamar-Kwame-Luke-Smush lineup into the playoffs in the West. (And Lebron's the winner this year, by that standard.)

MVP is a popularity contest. And Kobe ain't winning it, if the anti-Kobe vote can get its act together and pick a candidate to line up on.

Le Bron, you just can't tell. His supporting cast is so awful. I feel for him.

It's better than Kobe's in '05-06 -- and still wouldn't make the playoffs in the West.

Kobe or Garnett. Hard.

I could live with Garnett winning. Yeah, I hate the Celtics, but I don't disrespect them. Lebron or Paul would genuinely tick me off.

I say that as someone who was sitting in the cheap seats in 1986.

... speaking of which: that '86 team was the best team in the history of basketball. There's no team before or since I really think would have taken it in a 7 game series, though the '87 Lakers and '92 Bulls (a better team than the 72-10 Bulls) would have given them a hell of a run. The '87 Lakers added Mychal Thompson to its existing core; the '86 Celtics added a (uniquely) healthy Bill Walton. Thompson sure improved the Lakers, but not the way Walton improved the Celtics.

Don't call next year until the off-season happens, by the by.

Well, of course no one knows what's going to happen. Let's say that, "all else being equal," I've got the Lakers down as favorites for next year. But that's a big weasel phrase on my part. The Celtics could bring in more help, the Lakers could lose someone -- hell, the Spurs or Suns or someone might load up. But assuming that next year's lineups are about the same as this year's, and the Lakers finally have a chance to put Bynum and Gasol on the floor at the same time for a whole season -- that's at least potentially a 70 win team. Bynum/Gasol/Odom has the potential to be the most dominant front line since Parrish/McHale/Bird, plus the game's best player in the backcourt ...

Rondo's a find, no question. As to the Lakers starting PG, it'll be Farmar. I've only seen Rondo a few times (3,4) -- hard to have an opinion on someone I've seen so rarely. I'd imagine the same for you and Farmar -- I do know Farmar completely outplayed Rondo at the Rookie Challenge this year, but again, one game. Without commenting on Rondo, Farmar's completely solid this year -- 9 PPG, 2 RPG, 3 APG, in about 20 minutes (playing with the bench, at that.) Assume he plays 30 next year and posts 15 PPG, 3 RPG, 5 APG ... I'd be happy with that for a third-year PG playing in the triangle. It's hard to rack up assists in the triangle -- some years back Gary Payton's assists dropped something like 50% when he came to L.A. The three guys who averaged the most assists playing the tri are Jordan, Pippen, and Kobe -- and all did well to get into the 5+ range. (Jordan, notably, declined from 8+ APG to about 6 when Jackson instituted the triangle with the Bulls.)

Subrata,

Shaq's about as media savvy as any basketball player I've ever seen, no doubt. As to the adultery stuff -- I'm not sure when Shaq got married, not sure what's technically adultery and what isn't, but the rumors about him paying off women have been around for at least a decade. Google up "shaq" and "superhead" sometime. No one wrote about Jordan's extra-curricular activities either, back in the days before the internet made access to such information common.

As to Shaq working hard -- coming back from various injuries -- bad examples. Magic Johnson, when Shaq was still with the Lakers, once said on TNT that the only Lakers player he knew was going to work on his game in the offseason was Kobe. This isn't to say that Shaq didn't work hard by comparison with the average human being -- no doubt he did. But the standards are different when you're talking about all-time great basketball players. Magic was legendary for his offseason workouts. Ditto Jordan, Pippen, Kobe. Shaq consistently, year after year, came to camp out of shape, by contrast.

I'd say cheating on your wife (and putting her through the public hell of the rape investigation) is a much bigger sin than swearing at your boss in public.

No shred of doubt about that. But the one speaks to Shaq's basketball life, and the other to Kobe's private life.

Look, Ty Cobb was the biggest asshole in the history of sports, to all accounts. But no one ever accused him of not giving the game his best effort, and a lot of people have accused Shaq of that, over the years.

I can't help but think that you wouldn't be this big a Kobe fan if he didn't play for the Lakers, too :<)

I wouldn't be a fan at all. But I think I'd be honest about what sort of basketball player he is, regardless. Look, I'm a Dodgers fan. Lifelong, suffering included. And you could read back on this blog a few months, the nice things I had to say about Barry Bonds, the greatest player on our mortal enemies, the San Francisco Giants. Is he a jerk? Sure, and a bigger one than Kobe (rape charges aside) -- but he's also the best baseball player of his era, and I don't really care about the steroids. If homerism were at the root of this, I'd be trying to tear Bonds down, no?

Oscar Robertson might be the best guard I've ever seen play (even at the tail end of his career).

Could be. I started watching basketball seriously in the late 70s. I remember watching Wilt and Logo, but just barely. I have no real memories of watching almost anyone else of that era -- Baylor, Russell, Big O, nada. Certainly O's stats were amazing ... but as with everything from that era, you've got to slow it down to compare it with the modern game. No one played defense back in the day, and there were about 1.4 possessions for every 1 possession in the modern game -- meaning a lot more shots, a lot more points, a lot more assists, and a lot more rebounds to be had. Big O's Triple Double Season was impressive -- but he wouldn't have done it during Magic's era, and he wouldn't have come close to it today.

As to Chamberlain -- amazing guy, man among boys, I did know about the never-fouling-out stuff -- including the bit about how in 1969 he sat out the closing minutes of a close Lakers-Celtics Game 7 playoff game because he had five fouls and didn't want to foul out. When he asked to come back into the game, the Lakers coach, Butch van Breda Koff, was so angry at him he wouldn't let him back into the game -- very bad moment for van Breda Koff, but not Wilt's best moment either. The Lakers lost, and the balloons Jack Kent Cooke had penned up on the ceiling of the Forum never did get released ...

Team game. 2 rings. Taking nothing away from his individual accomplishments, Chamberlain's only fifth on my top all-time list --

Magic
Bill Russell
Jordan
Kareem
Wilt
Tim Duncan
Kobe
Bird
Jerry West

If either Kobe or Duncan win another championship this year, they move up past Wilt. Depending on how dominant they are in winning the championship, I might move them up past Kareem. (Hard to say that about a guy with six championships and six MVPs, but there you go -- Duncan's been more central to his championships than Kareem was to his, overall -- the only championship Kareem won I didn't see every game of was his first, with Big O; the next 5, Magic was more critical than Kareem. Toward the end, Worthy was more critical than Kareem.)

Steve,

I'm not suggesting anyone has to have sympathy for Kobe or anyone else in the NBA. I don't, with rare exceptions -- Magic getting HIV comes to mind; I cried when that happened, and I've only cried three times I can recall as an adult -- first marriage breaking up, Magic getting HIV, father dying.

You're welcome to observe my priorities are fucked up. Probably they are.

As to Kobe ... God knows. I don't. It seems unlikely to me that a woman who was really raped would go off and have consensual sex with someone else on her way to the police for her rape test ... but who knows?

Dan Moran said...

And oh, I should add, just for completeness -- I played ball with Jordan Farmar back in the day. I blocked his shot once, when he was about 15. :-)

We have the same birthday, November 30. One day he and I were out playing basketball on our birthday, and it came up in conversation.

If he's the kid I'm thinking of (and those ears are hard to forget) he beat me twice at one on one when he was about 14 -- he could shoot awfully well even then.

I hope he stays in the league forever. As long as he's playing in the NBA, there'll be an NBA player whose shot I've blocked ....

Steve Perry said...

It seems unlikely to me that a woman who had just had great sex with a major league basketball player would go have sex with another guy any time soon, too.

Probably she was happy to go up to Kobe's room, and maybe she wanted to play and maybe she wanted to stop.

My point is that a lot of jocks seem to feel a sense of entitlement, and even if she wanted to jump his bones, it's hard to spike paper without a paper spike; so at the very least, Kobe wasn't thinking about how his wife was doing at home ...

Subrata Sircar said...

I guess my feeling is mostly that since basketball is such a team game, there's a limit to what even the greatest player can do about his teammates. Is it "fair" to credit Russell with Red Auerbach's genius at finding players? Is it "fair" to ding Chamberlain for being stuck on bad teams?

Most of this is nit-picking about great players; it's not like either of us could truly lose with the second pick out of this crew.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what happens in the playoffs, and what happens in a decade or so when Kobe retires. If he's not a first-ballot HoF player, I've never seen one, and I hope the anti-Kobe-as-MVP crowd doesn't keep him out.

Bryant said...

Dan --

If you say Farmar's good, I'll buy it. So now I'm nervous, damn.

You make a good point regarding the Smush Parker team.

... yeah, we both want to see about three Lakers/Celtics Finals in a row starting right now, don't we?

Steve Perry said...

Look how long it took Spielberg to win an Oscar.

When you have everything going for you -- fame, money, your pick of playmates -- people sometimes figure you don't deserve the whole enchilada.

My daughter had a college English professor who was a big fan of E.B. Browning, spend most of a class trashing Stephen King. My daughter asked him which of King's books were so terrible. Guy admitted that he hadn't actually *read* any of them. But obviously a writer who was that popular couldn't be any good.

Apparently never read anything by Bill Shakespeare or Chuck Dickens ...

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,

I think you're a little biased on this one! Kobe is nothing compared to Jordan. I agree he is a phenomenal player but I'll take James over him as far as talent goes.
What you seem to forget about Jordan is no matter how good he was, he kept pushing himself to be better. Also, those first 3 champinoships...he took a sub-par team and made them giants!!! Kobe cannot do that. He doesn't have the capability to be a leader. And I blame this on his going straight into the pros. Had he played (and won) college ball, then there is no doubt in my mind he would have learned the skills to be a Jordan and much better also. I do believe he might be more talented but he's never had the obstacles Jordan has had.
I think the reason people hate Kobe is not because of the Jordan thing or the "rape" charge. It's because he doesn't play like the leader you would expect him to be. And he seems fine with it!! Basically, he comes across as a spoiled brat! It's been too easy for him. Plus, there is no excuse that he, being as good as he is, has not been able to push his team to win another championship! If he were truly as great as you think he is, he wouldn't have let anything stop him. I lived in L.A. for years and I've seen how blinded people can get following their team (although, like Chicago, most "fans" are only there for the win!! Sucks but true)
And c'mon! Magic and Russell #1 and #2! If you don't think you're biased, better think again. Where's Bird, Chamberlain? Magic yes. Russell? Ok. He was damn good. Not #2 though!! Lol
I love your writing. You rock with the Castanaveras stories. But as far as basketball goes....you remind me of my old friends from the neighborhood I grew up in. Cubs, Cubs, Cubs!! Win or lose, no matter the line-up, best players in the league and in history!! Lol
Sorry, buddy! Kobe's still gotta grow up....even if he's pushing 30! Or is he older? Can't remember.
Thanks for you blog. If we can't get a new book out of you, at least we can get something of your writing, right? lol

Dan Moran said...

Anon,

I think you're a little biased on this one!

No doubt.

What you seem to forget about Jordan is no matter how good he was, he kept pushing himself to be better. Also, those first 3 champinoships...he took a sub-par team and made them giants!!!

One of us isn't remembering. Jordan's first 3 championships he had:

BJ Armstrong -- an All-Star point guard.

Scottie Pippen -- 7 time All-Star, one-time All-Star MVP, 10 All-NBA Defense Team appearances, 50 Greatest Players of All Time selection.

Horace Grant -- All-Star power forward, 4 All-NBA Defensive Team appearances.

Bill Cartwright -- winding down his career by the time the 3-Peat came about, but an All-Star center and a quality big man in the minutes he played.

John Paxson -- their actual starting PG that year, made 43% of his 3s -- BJ Armstrong made 50%.

It was a better squad, during a more competitive stretch, than the Bulls put out during the second threepeat.

Kobe cannot do that. He doesn't have the capability to be a leader.

We'll see. Would multiple more titles before the end of his career convince you you're wrong? I tell you, a failure to win more championships would convince me you were right ....

And I blame this on his going straight into the pros. Had he played (and won) college ball, then there is no doubt in my mind he would have learned the skills to be a Jordan and much better also. I do believe he might be more talented but he's never had the obstacles Jordan has had.

Not sure which obstacles you're referring to, unless you mean the Celtics and Pistons -- they were certainly obstacles for Jordan earlier in his career.

Plus, there is no excuse that he, being as good as he is, has not been able to push his team to win another championship!

He's had stiffs playing next to him. No one -- not Magic, Bird, Russell, and Jordan -- could have won a championship with teammates like Kwame Brown and Smush Parker starting beside him.

Team game.

although, like Chicago, most "fans" are only there for the win!! Sucks but true)

Chicago? I grant you, I know very little about the Chicago fan base, but they've followed that damn team for a hundred years without a championship. If they're only there for the win, they're dumb.

And c'mon! Magic and Russell #1 and #2! If you don't think you're biased, better think again. Where's Bird, Chamberlain?

Er, eighth and fifth. :-)

Magic yes. Russell? Ok. He was damn good. Not #2 though!!

11 championships? I always feel guilty putting him at #2, worried it might be my Lakers homerism at work. :-)

pushing 30! Or is he older?

Kobe's 29.

Thanks for you blog. If we can't get a new book out of you, at least we can get something of your writing, right?

Certainly the happy, optimistic way to look at it. Bless you.

Edwin Rosell said...

Truth!