Sunday, June 3, 2007

Notes, or Kobe Bryant gets what he wants

Hello. Today: the Cavs reach the NBA Finals, and Kobe Bryant asks for it. But we begin with rage.

I can say now that I've survived the most frustrating night of my technological life. And I'm not a tech guy, really. I try to do really simple things with my computer. I want to use a wireless connection to receive e-mail, get news and sports, and download music and podcasts. And over the course of four hours last night I found that I was completely unable to do any of these things, using a total of two laptops and a desktop computer.

This is how the world will end folks. Not directly, not like the internet will somehow rise up and ovetake us someday. But some relatively powerful leader, in a country that may even normally be quite friendly, will be trying to bid on a set of golf clubs late one night, because what the Hell else does he have to do? And suddenly his connection will cut out.

Then, he'll try and listen to some music, just to relax, only to discover that all, yes all of his music has completely disappeared. And while he's trying to figure these things out, his computer, now virus-stricken, will begin to move about as quickly as a triple-amputee tortoise.

That's how World War III starts, folks. That's when, if you have the option, you say, "Igor," or "Sven, get me ze nuclear codes."

Needless to say, I'm a little burnt up. Let me give you an example of my mood last night.

My girlfriend and I live in a nice little duplex, 50 feet away from some raliroad tracks. We and our neighbor lock our inside back and front doors, but not the outside back door. Now, the outside back door gives access to the stairs to our basement. We leave a light on in the basement. But at night, you can't help but thinking that some fugitive mental patient has just hopped a train and decided to hide out in our basement until we come down looking for a sock. The basement where the previous renters conveniently left a table saw, you know, just in case said escapee feels like cutting me into a few pieces.

Put it this way: my girlfriend won't go down there at night. I will, but I always have to reassure myself: "There's nobody down here." And then my second thought is, "Well, I guess it would only have to happen once, and I'd be in a lot of trouble."

But last night I marched downstairs for a T-shirt without hesitation. My thinking was whatever was down there wanted no part of me. That's how pissed off I was.

I wrote previously about how Isaiah, Michael and Kobe's great teams seemed at times to be driven by fear, whereas Magic, Larry, D-Wade and Steve Nash inspired their teams with joy.

Although I've certainly tapped into this resource once or twice before, it probably hasn't been to this extent. If my words are most often drawn from the pleasure I get from spouting off about this or that, then today they come directly from fury. Like B.J. Armstrong and Will Perdue, these words are inspired by the fear of what I might do to them if they don't come through for me.

Whew. All right, breathe Mike. Let's get the easy stuff out of the way.

- In an editorial note, I should point out that I've made a few changes to the site. I started labelling my posts, so people can sort through what they want. You'll notice that almost all of my entries have multiple labels. That's just how I write. Look for dashes ("-") to set off different subjects, and happy hunting.

I think the labels are pretty self-explanatory. "Old Stuff," are things I wrote in high school, and "Self Serving Crap," could really apply to anything I've written - or done - in the last four years.

- Another editor's note: the soccer picture that I posted a few entries down - "Notes" for May 21 - had to be changed when the one I was using disappeared. Apparently, not only did the people at Oral Roberts not care about me using the picture, they didn't even care that it existed. Instead I got a bunch of famous guys in there now, which is fine, because it still proves my point. Feel free to check it out.

- I didn't want to go too far the other day on Lebron, because, again, I don't like to put too much weight into one game. And if anyone was due for a letdown, it was him, after he not only scored every point for Cleveland in the last 20 minutes of Game 5, he seemed to almost take every dribble. Indeed there was a letdown, but Detroit countered it with a meltdown, and Daniel Gibson hit his wide open shots.

And Lebron found a second wind in a five-minute span in the fourth quarter, when he got them from 77 points to 92. And that was all it took.

My awful, overblown Finals analysis will come later. But I can tell you that to honor Lebron's first trip, I'll publish something I wrote about Mr. Rev. Dr. King James while I was in high school. So enjoy.

- Now, because this is what he wants, I'll talk about Kobe Bryant.

And don't you get fooled into thinking that this is coincidence. Don't think that Kobe doesn't realize that by pulling this crap right now that he's stealing the playoff's thunder.

Let me run your through something. Let's go back to the 2002-03 playoffs, where the Lakers got knocked out by eventual champion San Antonio. During that offseason, Kobe was accused of rape, and instantly became the number one and number two story on the news cycle. He got way more coverage that offseason than any player ever gets during the NBA Finals. Then during the preseason he and Shaq traded childish exchanges through the media.

Then during the season, Kobe played with Shaq, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. By the time Kobe retires, that team will statistically be the most talented team ever assembled.

And all the while, Kobe's rape case carried on, and as damaging evidence about the victim was leaked, public opinion turned in Kobe's favor. So now, not only was Kobe the most high-profile player on the most high-profile team, not only was he living in a city of four million people who by and large still loved him, but he wasn't even necessarily hated or villified anymore. Now, he was just hugely famous.

Now, anyone who has decent insight into Kobe Bryant - via The Last Season, for example - knows what this kind of attention might do to a young fellow like Kobe. He might, being someone who drove Phil Jackson to see a narcissism-specialist therapist, he might really embrace that level of fame.

And when that season ended, the Kobe saga went on. Phil left, Shaq left. And Kobe himself toyed with his free agency, dragging it out as long as possible before finally resigning.

Then came the 2004-05 season, which, thanks mostly to Rudy Tomjanovich's cancer, was a throwaway. So last year, with Kobe's past infamy and mega-fame somewhat forgotten...

He threw up 45 points a game for a month, including historic flame-throwing nights against Dallas and then, that thing in Toronto.

I might someday look stupid on this, but I don't think we'll ever, ever see an 81 on a statsheet again. Unless somebody really pisses off Gilbert Arenas. But I don't even think Arenas has that in him. Fifty, even 60... these are special numbers, accomplishments, the kind of thing you can put in your pocket.

But 81? That's a decision. It was a mission to humiliate the Toronto Raptors -- and a cold-blooded one at that. The Lakers won that game by 22. They needed 65 of those points, 70 at most. That means some of those points were just for Kobe.

Michael Jordan, who a lot of people accused of being less-than-selfless in his younger years, scored 55 or more points nine times in his career. Only one of those games did the Bulls win by more than 10 points. Three of those games, Chicago won by only two points. Basically, Chicago needed all of those points.

Kobe, meanwhile, has hit for 55-plus points in Lakers wins of 11, 14, 18, 22, and 39 points. In short, he was doing this because he wanted to. And that vindictive quality is something that even MJ had outgrown by the time he was 28.

Bryant is an interesting study because he seems so consumed, already, with his place in history. I think he knows that he is physically Michael Jordan's equal. And the fact that his competitive nature equals MJs basically puts him in a two-person category. So I can only assume that what drives him at this point is his obssession with where he stands in that category.

That's right, Kobe wants to be better than Michael Jeffery Jordan. The player we all said, "Well, we'll never see another of him." Someone came along the very next generation, ignored all of that, and set out to be even better. And there's probably something admirable in that.

But he's not better. He's never been as good at working with his teammates. And you never saw Jordan approach five or six 3-point attempts per game, not even when he was a kid.

Moreover, they ran different locker rooms. According to Phil, Scottie Pippen told No. 23 at one point, "I can't do it without you Michael." And Jordan cried.

Kobe has turned his back on more good players than Michael ever even played with.

But, knowing that he's only 28, and knowing what Michael did at 32, 33, and 34... for Kobe to come out a few days ago and tell Stephen A. Smith that he wanted to be traded, demanded, said that there was no other option... Listen Kobe, your young team will get older. (Andrew Bynum is only 19, and he outrebounded Kevin Garnett and Ben Wallace, head-to-head, during his first month in the league.) Another veteran will come out to LA, just to play with you, and if you want, Jerry West can sit in the owner's box.

But for Kobe to come out later that same day, and change his mind? That can only mean that Kobe is so used to turmoil - seems to welcome it, even - that for him to throw this out and take it back in one day is no big deal.

Time now for my real point. The real point is that Kobe said these things to radio reporters, and not someone in the Lakers' front office. Kobe Bryant, 28, is so thrilled to hear his own voice and see his own name in print that sometimes he doesn't even care what comes after it.

That'll be all for today.

Back soon with some more new stuff.

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