Tuesday, May 09, 2006

We be doin' it 24/8/23

An interesting bit of incite from Free Darko today, talking about Kobe Bryant and the now apocryphal Game 7 against the Suns. They particularly attack Skip Bayless, who eviscerates K.O.B.E. for the same reasons as our own esteemed Bopcity did in his most recent post. For one thing, SilverBird5000's point about Jordan is astute: as much as we believe in the myth of the man, we can never know what Jordan would have done without the conceptual impossibility of a time machine or other such ultimately impossible metrics.

(As an aside, Skip Bayless is a douchebag contrarian whose screechy screeds are derived from assuming the stance of devil's advocate for whatever story might be considering current in the scope of the Worldwide Leader. I have seen people praise Bayless on the basis of his voice being "different" from the majority of views offered up in the monolithic field of sports reporting, which is a bit like praising a child who shits on the floor for not feeling constrained by the pressures of society. To have him ranting against Kobe is almost enough to sway my sympathies entirely, which is a lot to say for a Warriors fan.)

The crux (crunx) of all of this distate with Kobe is the unavoidable comparisons with Jordan. The most diabolical part of these comparisons is that they are all based on Kobe's own desires and dreams. He has, in the literal sense of the phrase, brought this upon himself by comparing himself to Jordan, by framing himself within the context of His Airness, he has given a free pass for every basketball writer to treat him as Hardwood Icarus, his wings melted by firey self-righteousness fueled by his own arrogance, which is second only to that of the man whose shadow prevents Kobe from developing his own iconic silhouette.

FD takes a basketball realist approach to the whole problem, pointing out that as much as was attributed to Kobe and Nashty, the tides of battle rested more on the shoulders of the supporting casts. When Kwame, Luke and Smush played well, the Lakers won. When Shawn Marion woke up and Barbosa started getting hot, the Suns won. Whether connected or not, each team had a hot streak with a certain amount of overlap. While Nash and Bryant were the catalysts for their teams, they were ultimately beholden to the performances of their lesser-talented teammates. This seems to be a reasonable, and wholly unsatisfying, summation of the situation.

Unsatisfying, because we will never really be able to tell whether Kobe's viewed capitulation was actually an attempt to show up his teammates, whether he just shut it down once it was clear the game was out of control or if he was honestly just trying to get his team to play well as they had earlier in the series, subsuming his own numbers in a futile attempt to get the engine running again. The second option is non-Jordan, the third option is psuedo-Jordan and the first option is probably closer to Jordan than most people would like to admit.

We can't tell because Kobe's character has been warped by the funhouse mirror of his public persona. His actions on the court can never be interpreted as pure basketball because there are always other contexts forcing their way into the scene. Because he is defined through his relationships with his teammates and his coach, he has become larger than the game and thus impossible to gauge as a pure player of the game.

Perhaps the clarity of history and perfect vision of hindsight analysis will reveal more about Kobe, in the same way that it has created a much more nuanced picture of Jordan. Until then we will be unable to see Kobe winning except as Kobe feeding his own ego and unable to see Kobe losing without seeing Kobe sabotaging the team for the sake of his ego.

I apologize for being so Kobe-centric in my first two posts. He doesn't consume my imagination as much as he might seem, it's just that he was the last truly interesting story of These NBA Playoffs. The Once and Future King is going to get ground beneath the heel of the Pistons and after that, it's the usual suspects, as the Pistons and the Spurs have their hands on the tiller, Dallas and Miami have outside chances if they can get through this round and the Suns will invariably fall on their sword, the fabled blade of Nobigmen. The only thing that I'm really looking forward to at this point is the possibility of Sheed getting another ring, this time for the middle finger on his left hand.

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