Thursday , Apr , 05 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe Bryant: View Askew

There’s something wrong here.

And when I write ‘here’ I mean that in the most literal sense possible. Granted, ‘here’ for you most likely means where ever you may be sitting as you read this column, fair enough. But in the context of the internet, ‘here’ means right here, on this web page, in this column, in this article, talking about Kobe Bryant. That’s where the problem is.

Kobe Bryant: View Askew

I cite a place and not a person as the origin of this problem because no one and everyone is really guilty of it. Whenever we enter this place, or anyone like it, we all become insanely guilty of this flaw, and once we leave we generally regain our wits.

What’s wrong is hard to put into words, it’s not so simple as to summarize it with the space of a few sentences. Perhaps what’s wrong is best captured in the title of this piece: View Askew. It’s like there’s just something wrong with the way we view Kobe Bryant. Maybe not even wrong per se, just, off. When you gather up the gamut of opinions available on Bryant, you begin to see the shocking contrasts between them, and you slowly realize how we’re all wrong in some little way. Each and everyone one of us views Kobe differently it seems, as a ball player and as a man, and it seems we all look at him through a tint of our own biases; even if that only applies to a small part of him, it distorts our total picture of him.

Maybe the only problem with Kobe Bryant is that we are incapable of objectively figuring this guy out.

Two games. Two results.
Seldom does a single game, or even two, ever really hold the capacity to illustrate something. In an 82 game season plus a post-season, two games are a glimpse of something much bigger that may or may not follow suit with that sample case. It really all depends on how you view it…

On April 1st the Lakers played the Kings. Kobe takes 14 shots, scores 19 points. He drops 13 dimes and the Lakers win 126-103.

Two days previous on March 30th the Rockets were in LA. Kobe shoots 44 times, nets 53 points. Two assists and a 104-107 loss.

Think about what Kobe Bryant is.
That’s not a rhetorical transition. I want to actually think about what, not who, Kobe is, as a basketball player. Go ahead, take a minute. Whatever it is you’ve come up with in your head, you’re most likely at least a little wrong. You might have thought something like, Kobe Bryant is… a scorer, or a clutch player, a fierce competitor, or a champion, a legend even. And don’t get me wrong, all those things are correct, but there’s more to it than that.

Every season Kobe is dropping something that is just straight up ill. A nine game streak of 40+ points in 02-03 was memorable, 62 in three quarters and 81 against Toronto last season were historical, and this season Kobe went on a tear of four consecutive fifty plus point games, two of which went for sixty. I’ve come to the point where I wake up in the morning waiting for the SportsCenter lead to be about Kobe’s latest exploit or what record he’s broken now. Even if everyone isn’t ready to realize it, perhaps legendary is the best way to describe Kobe, because the man is etching his name all over record books every chance he gets

But as I said, there is more to it than that. It’s another half, not another object all together, just the missing half to what we all recognize so often. When I ask people that question, “What is Kobe Bryant?” or “What do you think of when you think of Kobe?” I get the same kind of answers, replies that talk about his scoring prowess, The 81, the fifty point games, and of course the Colorado shit always gets trudged up. But when I think of Kobe, I think of something different.

When I think of how great Kobe is, how great he could be, my thoughts don’t go to a game of phenomenal scoring totals – they go to the first round of last season’s playoffs, Lakers and Suns. Make no mistake about it, last year’s first round match-up against Phoenix was the best basketball Kobe Bryant has played, ever. I can’t fully explain it, but there are instances where players just make me eat my words, justify themselves fully, almost without flaw, in my eyes. They take away my ammo.

For Steve Nash it was the 2005 Western Conference Finals against Dallas. My gripe all season with him was that he didn’t deserve the MVP on account of him not being able to take over games single handedly, and that he was only a distributor. Then Nash goes on dropping thirty and forty points games against the Mavericks. All of a sudden I got real quiet. I only had so many bullets to fire at the guy and now I didn’t even have those. And as you all know, now I’m a huge Steve Nash guy.

My bullets for Kobe had always been his selfishness. And not simply that, but his inability to be a distributor. He’s had the desire occasionally in the past, but being a player who makes his teammates better isn’t just about having a good attitude, it is genuinely a skill that some people have and some people don’t. In that Phoenix series last season, Kobe truly had that for the first time, he wasn’t just trying to have it just to look unselfish. Not only that, but his defense was on another level, his rebounding was up significantly. Kobe was dominating games without having to run up his point total.

But again, there’s a key in all this – these are two halves we’re talking about. You can’t just take one from the other or proclaim one superior and the other inferior. We get real stupid in sports journalism and media sometimes and use idiot examples like saying there’s “two Kobes”. Yeah, I get the point, the scoring Kobe and the facilitator Kobe, but that doesn’t make the example any less moronic. This is one guy, and these two different mindsets are coming from the same noggin. For years we’ve all been arguing over which one is better, pitting the two sides against each other, like we’re choosing sides in a Kobe civil war. The truth is we’re all a little wrong, because the victory for Kobe doesn’t come in choosing one side of his own nature over the other, it comes when he learns to reconcile the two.

Two games. Two results. Two views.
Near the top of this article I cited two different games. Go ahead and take a look at those again. Come on, humor me and scroll back up, and re-read that section. That’s what I’m talking about. Those two games, and more importantly your reaction to them, may explain everything I’ve been talking about.

Most likely you read that section and thought to yourself, this jerk thinks he’s slick by bringing up a game where Kobe shot a lot and the Lakers lost and contrasting it to a game where Kobe spread the ball around and his team won. If I were some other writer with an agenda who thought he was slick, maybe that would be the case, but that’s not what this is.

While it’s true that stats don’t lie, they also don’t tell the whole story. Those two games aren’t an example of one game where Kobe did the right thing and another where he did something wrong, not at all. Those two games are instances where Kobe did exactly what he was supposed to do. The Sacramento game doesn’t need any explaining, that’s a consensus solid game by anyone’s standards and gets special attention when it comes from Kobe.

But if you actually watched that Houston game you would have seen what I saw. You would have seen Lamar Odom hesitant to take a shot or even have the ball for more than a few seconds. You would have seen Kobe’s teammates constantly re-shoveling him the ball even when he gave it up. The truth is, no one in a Lakers uniform other than the man wearing number 24 wanted to shoot the ball down the stretch in that game. Kobe Bryant did what he had to do, he shot the damn ball and tried to get his team back in the game, which he did with some late game heroics that damn near pulled the Lakers to a win. Los Angeles lost the game through no fault of Kobe; they lost because the Rockets are a team approaching 50 wins this season and Houston just played the better game from start to finish. That’s not Kobe’s fault.

Again, it’s all how you view this. We can see two contrasting games and start chicken shitting around, debating which style is better and never get anywhere. I can say Kobe should be a facilitator all the time, you can say he should try and score fifty every game, and we’d both be dead ass wrong. The truth is, the Lakers are a better team when Kobe is distributing and focusing on other areas besides just scoring, that much has been proven by them almost beating one of the best teams in the conference. But just as much a fact is that on occasion Bryant’s teammates will under perform. The Lakers supporting crew isn’t a bad one, just inconsistent. Which means that there will be occasions when Kobe scores fifty or the Lakers lose, it’s that simple. The key comes in Kobe being able to know when to take over, and over the years he’s gotten increasingly better at that.

Look, I’m going to drop a line you won’t see much these days – I don’t know. What don’t I know? I don’t know what goes on in Kobe’s head. And I’m tired of trying to figure it out. I’m also sick of people acting like it has everything to do with how the man plays ball. Maybe he’s not trying to be a selfish jerk when he takes a lot of shots; maybe he’s just trying to win the game. Maybe he’s not trying to prove us all wrong when he decides to pass the ball a bunch in one game; maybe he’s just trying to win the game.

It’s about time we realize that how Kobe Bryant behaves on a basketball court is not the end all indication of his character as a human being. And in that realization, we should stop taking debates on his game so personal. We never seem to be able to look at Kobe with a level headed mindset. There are only those who vehemently oppose him and those who hold blind loyalty towards him, neither of which is a good side to be on.

We all have our own views of Kobe, and we’re all entitled to them. But I still can’t help but think we’re all a little wrong. I can’t help but think we all hold onto our own biases with Kobe more so than with other players. Kobe’s been a polarizing figure since he hit the podium with shades on as a seventeen-year-old kid announcing his jump from high school to the NBA. At that moment people made a hard line to opposite ends of the spectrum and haven’t considered a middle ground since.

Kobe’s game is nearing complete perfection as he establishes a balance between being a facilitator for his teammates and his unstoppable scoring ability. But when he’s done with the game we’re going to have to look back at history and accurately assess what this man meant to the game of basketball. If we want to do the game and Kobe justice, we had better hope we find our own balance in the way we view Kobe Bryant.