Wednesday , Mar , 28 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe Bryant: Killing ‘Em Softly

I think Kobe Bryant owes me an apology.

Not a real, “oops I cheated on my wife made a morally bankrupt ass of myself, alienated and disappointed all of my fans and generally confirmed any supposed lack of intelligence on my part,” apology – no, not one of those. We all know Kobe owes no one that kind of apology (not unless you’re, you know, his wife), and I’m not asking for one of those.

Kobe Bryant: Killing 'Em SoftlyI’m not the kind of guy who holds a grudge. Okay, fine, I’ll admit, I’ve been sticking pin needles into a Tony Romo doll since the NFC Wild Card game, but that’s a different sport and another story. In general as a human being nothing tends to bother me longer than it takes to watch an episode of The Daily Show, that’s one of the blessing of satellite TV and a short attention span. In general as a columnist I try to be objective, with the occasional subjective rant or raving thrown in. In this case, I’d like to think my beef is legit like Jim Rome’s membership in the bad motherfucker club.

Although, perhaps my words should be chosen with a bit more vigilance. Homages to myself aside (see NBA Front Row episode 1 if you don’t follow), clarity is essential. For lucidity’s sake, let me expound on my opening statement. Maybe it’s not an apology I’m looking for per se, so much as it is an explanation. Explanation for what? That depends on your perspective, on the filter through which you view the Kobeverse.

To some – we’ll call them the ‘loyalists’ for brevity’s sake – I’m asking for an explanation to a simple, innocent occurrence. For some I’m asking Kobe to explicate on the incidents that involve him trying to draw a foul and, by complete chance, accidentally striking another player in the face. That doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, if that was the only side to the coinage it might be considered absurd for me to be bringing it up at all. But there is another side to this, one that doesn’t gleam so nicely.

To some others – we’ll call them ‘haters’ for honesty’s sake – I’m asking for a much needed explanation to a ruthless premeditated attack on another player, cheaply disguised as an unconscious reflex. To these people what we’re discussing is Kobe thinking a guy is guarding him too closely, crowding his shot too much, and he’s going to "create space" by knocking the shit out of the other guy’s face. Ain’t that a bitch.

That’s two very different views on one set of occurrences. Getting that twisted on what essentially comes down to three plays is the kind of split speak that traditionally only comes from politicians and CNN. But regardless, I thought an explanation to my petition for an explanation was necessary and it was. We can move on now.

I’ll get right to the point which I actually believe is most telling in all this. It involves the first incident involving Kobe’s elbow/forearm and another player’s face, in this initial case Spurs’ guard Manu Ginobili’s face. When it happened, and I mean the very instant it happened, I couldn’t have had less of a non-reaction to it. I barely even noticed it. It took place at the end of regulation in a close, hard fought game, and in all honesty at the time it mattered to me about as much as a player handing the referee the ball at the end of the game.

Fast forward to the next day and I’m feeling like the guy in the room who didn’t get the joke. Watching the local news that day I’m thinking, "Did I miss something?" All of a sudden there’s a ‘controversy’ and an ‘incident’. Really? Where? When? I must have seen the footage a couple dozen times in one day, and every time I could only think of how much people were blowing it out of proportion.

I wasn’t the only one who was trying to turn down the controversy noise either. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t think all that much of the play, and that’s from a guy with so much attention to detail he blow a gasket when screens aren’t set properly. Manu Ginobili got his nose even more messed up and even he wasn’t looking to hold a grudge or stir up trouble.

I didn’t agree with the first suspension, not even a little bit. I understood the rationale, I just didn’t think a suspension was a proper response. A cheap attempt to draw a foul was obvious, intent to hurt another player was not; and moreover, I had never seen anything like that, ever. I figured if Kobe wanted to hurt somebody, there were better ways to do it. At the time I thought just a fine and no suspension would have been adequate.

It was like when you were on the playground back in elementary and you got into a fight with another little squirt. It’s a quick dirty scuffle, no one really wins, and no one gets seriously hurt. Afterwards you aren’t holding a grudge and neither is he. But despite that the teachers and parents go ape shit, and demand something be done. Let kids be kids; shit happens.

But then, something else happens. The next day, you go up to completely different kid and for no damn reason at all you bitch slap him across the playground. That changes everything. Now you aren’t just a one time incident; now you’re a troubled child.

When Kobe smacked Ginobili it was a one time deal and a freak occurrence that I had never seen before. When KB pulled the same maneuver on Marko Jaric in a game against Minnesota, it was the repeat crime, that move was instantly familiar and I got a sick feeling in my stomach the second I saw it. I had been duped.

It was easy to say the result of Kobe’s arm flailing wasn’t intentional the first time, you’d have to be stretching it to think it was. But the second time, when it’s exactly the same, with essentially the exact same result, you have to start wondering what’s going through his head when he does this. Something about it was conscious, intentional, deliberate. Maybe the actual result wasn’t what Kobe was going for, but the word ‘accident’ gets thrown out about the time Marko Jaric hits the hardwood.

So you’ve gotten into a couple of scuffles, troubling sure, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome with some good behavior. You’ve gotten your warnings, your discipline, and if you just play by all the rules you’ll be straight. But that’s not the way it goes down. Instead, you decide to walk across the playground one more time and smack another kid. No warning, no provocation, just turn around and wham. That’s it, you’re grounded.

Despite what some analysts have contended, the blow delivered by Bryant to Kyle Korver of the 76ers was not the most inauspicious of Kobe’s smack attacks, if anything it was the most deliberate and intentional of them all. You can look at the plays where Kobe is taking a shot and rationalize other explanations. What’s the explanation for having your elbow make contact with the face of the opposing player who is a step and a half behind you?

When a big man is being taught the fundamentals of the game, he’s taught to protect a rebound by putting the ball in a press hold, both to tightly secure the basketball, and yes, to use his elbows protectively. I get that. When he’s taught post moves, the drop step is taught from the ground up, position yourself with your feet first, the leverage comes from your lower body, but you have to finish that all the way up through your upper body and most people teach to have the elbows out to get that leverage and move your defender. I get that. Even when you’re dribbling, you’re taught to use your off arm to protect the ball, keep your dribble low and that protective arm low as well. I get that also.

What I don’t get is how flailing your arm out in the direction of a defender after taking a shot is considered a natural basketball move. I don’t get how throwing a an elbow behind you is going to help you in anyway, other than the obvious result of sending the guy behind you to the ground or seriously impeding his progress. Don’t get me wrong, I know why Kobe does these things. He throws out his arm after a shot in order to make it look like his arm was hit by the defender, thus baiting the referee into calling a foul. He throws elbows at defenders chasing him for the most obvious reason – to hit them.

Elbows and forearms and a whole host of other body parts get tossed around and are occasionally used as weapons in this sport, that much is a given. I’m not saying Kobe is the only guy to do it, I’m not saying we should prepare the gallows and the light the furnace over it either. What I am expressing, what I’m asking for, is my explanation. Not because I believe I, or anyone of us, deserve one, but because I’m curious.

The emphasis here is that this has happened repeatedly. The first time, alright so you tried to draw a foul and hit a guy in the face. The league overreacted to your method and issued a petty suspension. Kobe had a right to be upset about that one, but he also should have learned his lesson. But instead Kobe decided he was going to ignore the league and do whatever he damn well pleased. And because of that he’s incurred two more suspensions.

    So here’s my question, here’s what I really want to know:

    Kobe, what the f… are you thinking?

Slow your roll. I’m not trying to nonsensically stir up shit, I’m not reapplying for membership into the Kobe-hater club, I’m just genuinely perplexed about the actions of a guy who everyone seems to think is so much smarter than this. I mean, Kobe is not a stupid guy, right? He speaks something like seven languages, that means he must be smart. He couldn’t just be stubborn; he couldn’t just be hard headed. Kobe Bryant must have a good explanation for why he feels the need to disregard the league’s not so gentle nudges – right?

See, that’s the problem I have. That’s why I’m hung up on this. That’s why after Kobe went four straight games scoring over half a century of points I’m still harping on events of calender pages past. It matters still because it seems that no matter what he does or who tells him what, Kobe believes he should be able to do anything he pleases with no repercussions. In a way it’s hard to blame him. For all of his life the basketball court has been the place where he can indeed do whatever he wants. I can understand how someone telling him to take out a move in his game can be foreign to him, but that still isn’t an excuse.

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this piece I talked about two groups of people and two different views. The truth is I subscribe to neither of those ways of thinking, and both of them are wrong. What Kobe does with his forearms and elbows is not purely innocent, it is not unconscious, it is not a legitimate move in the game of basketball. Nevertheless, it is neither malicious, hostile, or premeditated.

As simply as this can be put, Kobe Bryant does a few things that aren’t exactly textbook. That in itself is not a huge deal. If he wants to try and draw fouls or create space, fine, more power to him if it works. But in these instances that hasn’t worked. Kobe has been fined, suspended, and called out for his actions and the league has now got a close eye on him at all times. So there’s a very simple solution to his problems: cut it out.

If Kobe really isn’t trying to hurt anyone, if he really isn’t a dirty player, if the results of his movements aren’t really intentional, then he should remove anything from his game that could bring suspicion on him. And so far, he seems to have done that.

And I hope that’s the last any of us have to hear about it. I hope these incidents will be nothing more than a footnote for Kobe when we look back at this season. There are better things to discuss when it comes to the man wearing 24 in purple and gold and trust me, I’ll get to those things more than a few times.

You know, I almost, just almost, give him credit for it. Because he’s that good. Kobe Bryant like so many other superstars get away with a lot of things and get the benefit of a whole lot of calls. But I almost get the sense that wasn’t enough for Kobe, like he had to take it even farther. Maybe that’s all the repeat occurrences were, Kobe trying to see what he could get away with, trying to impose his will on the league, and not let it work vice versa. In fact, I do give him credit for the effort, the man does his thing with subtlety.

    How they say? Killing em softly… killing em softly.