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Friday, March 23, 2007

Blood In The Water

I remember chatting with Kobe Bryant on the phone years ago. He was a lost 20-year-old kid, in his third year with the Lakers, just becoming aware that Shaquille O’Neal was stepping on his neck with an inconceivable hatred.
We were in Houston. I was writing a book called Mad Game, The NBA Education of Kobe Bryant.
There was no question that Bryant had huge blind spots about himself and his relationships with older teammates. What 20-year-old doesn’t have blind spots? Bryant, though, had huge ambition, thus huge blind spots. He didn’t see that his ambition itself, his over-the-top work ethic, immensely irritated the veterans around him.
Anyway, we were chatting on the phone before the Lakers played the Rockets that night. Bryant had awakened from a good nap and was willing to continue our running conversation about his unusual life.
He had scored his first 50-point game in January 1996 as a senior leading his Lower Merion, Penn., high school team to a 95-64 win over Marple Newtown.
As we talked, he recalled the absolute exhilaration, the complete sense of domination, that scoring 50 points brought him.
That night in high school had helped him articulate the goal in his basketball life. “I just want to be the man,” he told me. “I just want to dominate.”
It wasn’t idle boasting by some punked-out kid. Bryant was earnestly expressing his destiny.
Scoring 50 points was a feeling that he wanted to experience again and again. He was sure he could do it in the NBA if he could only get people to understand. His frustration was that no one saw what he saw. He knew he could do it. Knew he could find a way, if someone would just let him. He didn’t know how that would happen.
“I just want to be the man,” he repeated.
It wasn’t a statement he made around his teammates and coaches. He didn’t have to. His every action spoke it. Every little thing he did declared “I’m on my way to greatness.”
Every little thing he did was a match that torched the anger of the people around him.
As a response, nearly everyone he encountered in the NBA sought to harness his game. Even as a young player he could produce 26-point halves, but it was as if no one wanted to see them. Instead of seeing them as things of beauty, his coaches and teammates saw his scoring outbursts as unbridled acts of vanity.
They sought to bridle him.
“I will not let them change me,” he told me. “I will find a way. I don’t know how, but I will find a way.”
Over the years, Bryant has endured much pain trying to establish that destiny.
His ambition has been blamed for wrecking a Lakers dynasty. He has battled himself, his teammates, his coaches, the game itself. He has done so fearlessly, relentlessly, with little sign of regret or doubt, only the dogged pursuit of his vision of what he is supposed to be.
There was no question that Bryant could on any given night be blinded by his own brilliance, just as his teammates could be mesmerized by it.
Soon many fans came to equate his every action with selfishness, so that no matter what he did, or how brilliantly he did it, his accomplishments were met with derision.
The realization of this first drove Bryant to despair; then it drove him to compromise.
I like to hammer Phil Jackson in this column, almost as much as I like to extol the virtues of Tex Winter. Both men deserve much credit for their work with Bryant. Winter guided and nurtured him through the harsh phases of his career.
And after being Bryant’s uncommunicative enemy for several seasons, Jackson has become his ally, the man responsible for guiding him toward a team mind-set.
Often Jackson and Winter have differed in their opinions on how to handle Bryant. Now, though, they seem to agree that the Lakers absolutely need Bryant and the full firepower of his arsenal to push the team out of its doldrums and back on track toward the playoffs.
As a result, Bryant is now realizing his vision of 50 point games, of dominating, of “being the man.”
After Bryant scored 60 in a road win over the Memphis Grizzlies recently, Jackson told reporters, “At one point, we got the offensive rebound and (had) a whole new 24-second (shot clock) left. Lamar (Odom) gave the ball right back to him and Kobe went right back at them. He just smells blood in the water and he’s going to go after you.”
I interviewed Jackson many times during his years as coach of the Chicago Bulls. The “blood in the water” quote was the sort of commentary he frequently offered about the incomparable Michael Jordan.
In Bryant’s career with the Lakers, I can’t recall Jackson offering a truly Jordanesque quote about Bryant. Oh, Jackson has had plenty of nice things to say, some of them genuine.
But I perceive this quote as different. Kobe Bryant has finally achieved the status he has sought so long.
He finally has neared the level of respect, even reverence, that Jackson accorded Jordan.
It has taken him a long time to earn that status. Fans still withhold from him the respect they gave to Jordan, the sense that Jordan was bullet-proof, that he could do no wrong in their eyes.
Because of the criminal allegations in his past, because of the perception of his selfishness, Bryant may never be accorded that level of respect by the fans.
But there’s no question this is a new day. Bryant has arrived at his moment, able to use his full arsenal truly for the first time. His three big scoring games in a row all resulted in Lakers wins. He is the man at last, the dominance he sought in his youthful vision.
There’s only a sense, that as the team charges down the schedule toward the playoffs, there are more big performances to come, each of them to be prized the way Phil Jackson once prized Jordan’s every move.
As the Rolling Stones would say, Let It Bleed.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the Lakers. His biography of Phil Jackson, Mindgames, was recently released by the University of Nebraska’s Bison Books in a special paperback edition.

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22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Kobe accomplished his goal but lakers paid the price. They couldn't win even a playoff series after the Shaq trade .
Kobe is too selfish ,too self-oriented to be a franchise player for a championship team.
If kobe was a tennis player ,he would prabably be the G.O.A.T but basketball is a team sport and selfish players can't lead you to victory.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first post is a good example of misperception from a hater.

Kobe is great! Love him hate him, that's the fact. Enjoy Kobe's game, or you'll regreat later.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

he gets 15 assists and 15 points in a game and lakers lose... people say he should shoot alot... he gets 8 assists and 30 points and lakers lose... people say he should shoot a lot... he gets 60 points on only 37 shots and people say he is selfish.. come on!! 81, 65, 62, 60 (all wins).. stop the hatred.. give this kid some credit for being the best player in the world...

10:12 AM  
Blogger MCBias said...

Roland, I just picked up Mindgames the other day from the bookstore. Had to read it all in one day. We forget sometimes that greater intelligence doesn't necessarily need to culture and helping others; it can lead to ruthlessness as well. That was what I took away from your book on Phil. I still respect his intelligence, but the people he's torn down in pursuit of excellence(John Bach, Tex Winters, June Jackson, etc.) should mean something too.

I wonder, though; was all of Kobe's ruthless mindset pre-Jackson? Interested in hearing your opinion on that. Jackson seems to be able to impart ruthlessness to his players when they need it. I find it interesting that Jordan, to my knowledge, did not become a trash-talker until after Jackson was his coach.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous ytb said...

great post. it's so rare to hear complimentary comments from phil about kobe and i'm glad that they are finally recognizing that just the sheer will of kobe's talent can take the lakers to great heights.

also, kobe is often misunderstood by the media and it feels great to finally read a column from someone who truly gets what kobe is all about. thanks!

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, Kobe is going to go down as the 2nd best 2 guard ever, hands down. and that's not bad considering the #1 2 guard is also the #1 player ever. And I'm not a fan of Kobe but I'm a fan of ball and the guy has the goods. No, he's not better than MJ but who is? Kobe has done some great things but when you compare him to MJ the only thing significant he really has over him is the 81 game. And if MJ played in this "no defense" era of today he probably would have hit that or 70-something more than a few times cause remember, besides his scoring avg he also shot 50% for his career and had a 5 year span averaging 53% from the field. Averaging over 30 at over 50%, it will never be accomplished again. Which to me is the true gauge of dominant scoring. That's why Shaq was so effective in his prime and why you can't compare his avg with Kobe's during their run because Shaq's points were the most dominant, not to say Kobe's scoring wasn't impactful because they were and the Lakers wouldn't have won 3 without him. But it was the dominance of Shaq that propelled the Lakers. Plus, once Kobe beat his man he never had to worry about a big man coming to help because they had to stay with Shaq.

The no contact, no hand checking on the perimeter rule is a MAJOR, MAJOR offensive advantage. Eddie Johnson recently said he would have averaged 10 points more per game if he could turn and face without the defender being able to touch him, and that's Eddie Johnson! But I mention all this just for perspective, not to deny what Kobe has done, because 81 is 81 and the guy is an ALL-TIME GREAT. Best player in the league today. We should just appreciate an all-world talent while its here because Kobe already has over 10 years in the league and he won't be this brilliant for too much longer.

And to 73SALAS73, the overall talent in the league was much,much better 10-15 years ago and the teams the Bulls defeated in the Finals were all better than any recent champion of the last 8-9 years excluding that 2nd Lakers champ squad. All those teams the beat had members of the top 50.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idiots calling Kobe selfish need to just shut up...just shut up.

I disagree that this marks Kobe's arrival. Anyone who knows the Lakers already knew that Kobe was capable of this at anytime, and the only thing holding him back was Phil and the commitment to the team.

Given the current makeup and health level of the team...that just isn't possible anymore, not if winning is still important. What irks me is that it took Phil this long to unleash him.

The last two of these three scoring binges were pretty effortless workmanlike performances. Short of the dominant efforts in his 81 pointer last season or the 62 in three vs. Dallas.

I don't think there was any one stretch or specific game in which it happened, but it happened at some point during the threepeat run. There was a shifting of the tides, where Kobe became more of the go to guy than Shaq. No one talked about it...it just happened. Similar in many ways to how TO gradually became the go to guy over Rice in SF in 2001.

Kobe isn't doing this for show...he's doing it because there is not other way to win the game other than to personally outscore the other team. Lost in the shuffle are three horrendous defensive games from the entire team.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe is a self-seeking, self-centered immoral ball hog! That's why he's scoring all the BS points! Anyone who supports him or breaks out the Laker pom poms is probably a immoral cynic to! Is he talented yes, is he a lewd, narcissistic, unethical, impure, big headed, stuck-up imbecile YES! F this guy in the butt like he did the tramp in Colorado ya Kobe cheer-leading degenerates. The NBA sucks fat rhino testes, I hate these spoiled lethargic idiots and their BS campaign league and guaranteed contracts.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL...the haters need to suck it down...another 50 for the Kobester. Fo in a row, suckas....Beating even the holy MJ this time...well he's already done that with 81.

To the no life loser up above ^^

How are the points BS when the Lakers need basically all of them to win close contests?

If you hate the NBA why are you even posting here?

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol at MJ playing in a better defensive era. I think you should go back and watch the games at his scoring peak in the 80s.

His defenders were a bunch of skinny toothpicks whose defensive stance was to stand straight up. Every team was scoring 120 every night, and most people shot over 50%. No zone defense either, and he could post up 8 feet from the basket whenever he wanted. In his legendary 60 game (in 2OT) vs the Boston Celtics, he was being single covered by defensive powerhouse Danny Ainge (and even Bill Walton on some instances!).

MJ is the greatest player in history, based on his accomplishments, but don't say that he is a better scorer than Kobe.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow I see kobe was planning to run shaq out of town ever since high school, when he proclaimed he wanted to be the man some day. Well Kobe got his wish and now he's the man, but like tmac he will win scoring titles, but will be out in the 1st round. But hey, he got his wish of being the man.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Rover said...

Man I can't believe you people can cheer for a rapist!! You guys have no morals and by cheering for him, you condone raping. I don't cheer for him and can go to sleep with a clear conscience every night. You guys are all going to hell!

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe is Kobe, people keep trying to compare the guy to Jordan, come on, Mj has moved on and so should the rest of you. MJ is just classic, he was great in his era, and he was compared to Dr. J. Who was great in his ERA. Kobe is great...NOW. Plain and simple. Kobe never said he wanted to be MJ, Kobe wants to be the best that Kobe could be, and it just so happens that his best is better than any one right here, right now, same story with his AIRNESS. He was the greatest during his time in the NBA. Stop comparing the two, and enjoy Kobe's greatness while it last cause it won't last forever. Then the next baller will come along and all of the haters will be like, damn he's good but he ain't MJ or Kobe.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Is it just me? said...

To the guy who said Kobe fans and Kobe is "a immoral cynic to" it's AN immoral cynic TOO, you friggin idiot! Learn how to spell before you post your retardted thoughts.

Kobe has his faults just like every player in the NBA. It is just amazing to me how one man can do no wrong (Nash) and one man can do no right (Kobe). When Kobe goes for 40-45 points you hear the critics say he's selfish, taking too many shots, blah blah. Who do you want taking the shots on the Lakers? And when Kobe dishes 12-15 dimes and scores 20-25 points, they say he's not being aggressive, he needs to take over, he's deferring too much, blah blah. On the flip side, when Nash dishes out 15 dimes and scores 10-12 points, the media calls him a leader, a great facilitator, a floor general, blah blah. When he scores 35, they say he is clutch, hardnosed, a team leader, blah blah.

Is it only me? When did Nash become the modern day Magic? Don't get me wrong, I like Nash and his game. And I don't blame Nash because he has no control over what the media writes just as Kobe has no control. But doesn't it seem like Nash is getting too much credit? Nash reminds me of a QB in the West Coast offense. Is it the QB or the system. Of course you can't just put any chump in the west coast offense and expect it to work, a la Mike Vick, but the system has a lot to do with it. I like to compare Nash to Jeff Garcia. They are benefiting from the system. I can think of a hand full of guys who can replace Nash at the point and win just as many games for the Suns give or take a few. It would be hard pressed for you to find another player in the league who can replace Kobe on the Lakers with the current roster and carry them like Kobe can. The only player that even comes close is Houston's Tracy McGrady.

I know what you are thinking, the Lakers are only a few games over .500 and a lot of players can carry their teams to that record. You have to consider this. When the Lakers go on the road, the opposing teams almost always has a sellout and their record attendance is almost always set when the Lakers are in town. What I'm trying to say is that teams, players, and fans get geared up for the Lakers like no other team. Fans boo the loudest when the Lakers are in town and cheer louder than ever for their home teams when they face the Lakers. Kobe always takes their best shot. He never gets a night off and he never takes a night off. Opposing players try to have the game of their lives when they go up against Kobe. He brings out the very best in them just like MJ did when he played. MJ was the measuring stick. You want to make a name for yourself in the league, you take it to MJ. Now Kobe is that player and the sign of greatness and true respect comes from your peers. With all of that, it seems to me that Kobe doesn't get the respect and appreciation from the media that players like Nash and Wade get, to name a few. At least in Wade's case he led his team to a title last year. Let's not forget Kobe has three rings and I don't want to hear about how it was all Shaq. Shaq didn't even show up until the NBA finals. Kobe absolutely carried them in the Spurs series during their second run and let's not forget about that game 7 OT on the road in Sacramento. He was unbelievable that day. Gerald Wallace of the Kings who was riding the pine that day still thinks about that game till this day and says watching him that day inspired him. What has Nash ever won? Just a few years ago he was known as a choker with the Dallas Mavericks and now he's the greatest thing to hit the hardwood. Nash has won the MVP the last 2 years and I know the Suns are getty over the Pacific Division champ banners that are hanging from the rafters, but what has Nash ever won during this time? Seriously, can you remember the last time a player won multiple MVP awards and couldn't even GET to the NBA finals? Can you remember the last time a back to back MVP failed to get to the NBA finals in the years he won that award? And now they are talking a third straight MVP for Nash and they probably won't even get to the finals this year. At least when Bird won 3 consecutive, he went to the finals all 3 years and won 2 of them.

In the midst of all this Kobe bashing, I felt compelled to bring this up. The culture of the NBA has changed and call it what you want, "hip hop" generation, thugs, gangsters, or what have you. I sense a real discontent for the players in the NBA coming from the media and in the middle of all this "craziness" is Steve Nash, the great white hope. Really, is it just me that feels this way? Just in case you are wondering, I am neither black or white. I don't have a bias toward either race. I am at the point where I am going to throw up if I hear any more Nash for MVP comments.

It baffles me how the critics and the media, who are so quick to judge the greatness of a player by the number of rings they have, but are now so eager to jump on the bandwagon of a player with no rings and possibly might end his career with none. Yet they fail to ever mention this when they are drooling over how much they love Steve Nash. By their logic, Chauncey Billups should be considered a "greater" player than Nash or even John Stockton. Listen, I'm not going as far as to say Devean Georege who has 3 rings is better than Charles Barkely with none. Billups was the finals MVP. He wasn't just their for the ride. He's a multiple time all-star and the leader of his team. Billups doesn't even get 1/4th, of the love that Nash gets from the media. He is a more complete player and can lock up the other team's PG. Honestly, if I had both of those guys on my team, I would give the ball to Billups over Nash for the last shot. If you do not think Nash's back to back MVP awards have nothing to do with him being white, let me know because I have a real hard time swallowing that.

Let me get back to the issue at hand. I will say this about Kobe Bryant. This is a pure hypothetical scenario. If you were down by one point with 6 seconds left, and your life or in case you don't value your life, the life of a loved one depended on it, who would you want taking that shot? Honestly, ask yourself that question? If your answer is Kobe, think about that before you start hating on him again. I am purely speculating here, but if you told Kobe that your life depended on him making that shot, I have a sick feeling that would motivate Kobe even more and he would almost welcome that challenge. That is how sick of a basketball player and competitor Kobe Bryant is. A player like Kobe is so rare, just sit back, enjoy the show and you can thank him for the ride when it is all done.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was it just me or did MJ in his time also receive criticism for being selfish? He also had off nights and lost games where he scored high (or low). Yet then he'd pull off amazing stuff so regularly that there was just no question that he's beyond everyone around him. Buzzer beaters, incredible 2-handed blocks, out of the blue steals.

But you got to give it to Kobe just as much. He's being called selfish, yet he puts up big numbers (which was great for MJ as well) and helps his team win. His shooting and the ability to create his own play is awesome and does deserve comparison to what MJ did in his prime.

Kobe has put himself into the all-time scoring legend list and it's going to last and I'm sure when the dust settles Kobe Bryant will be remembered comparably to how Wilt and MJ are remembered now... not really compared, but equaled as all-time outstanding basketball players.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is getting ugly . Kobe was blatantly going for 50 yesterday. Lkaers played much better and balance game after kobe scored his 50. It is starting to hurt lakers. He is shooting everytime he touches the ball and he even had a few words with Luke Walton because Luke didn't pass him the ball and passed it to a wide open teammate.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hold up first of all y r all of yous haten on kobe and kobe is the greatest. yea, he is better than mj. MJ yes he did got six rings but u have to look at how MJ had a better team he had many great players wit him, kobe he dont got good players as MJ had, and shaq he also have good players but i could gurantee that the Heat will not win the championship this year. Look at wilt chamberlin he wasnt greedy wen he scored so much points but wen it comes to kobe he greedy, everyone haten on him bcuz he breakin records. So all i have to say is kobe will win more championship rings and he is the greatest and better than MJ.

8:12 PM  
Blogger PMF15 said...

Paul from North Carolina
Kobe is great and probably is a better offensive player than MJ or he will be, but the one part of Jordan's game that Kobe isn't close
too and nobody hardly ever looks at
is on Defense. Michael played Defense much better than Kobe and I don't think Bryant will ever be as good as MJ. Jordan played just as hard on Defense as Offense and still had energy.

This is why Michael is the Best Ever and until a player plays Offense and Defense like Michael no one should ever be compared to him.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Shyam said...

Perhaps the first thing every media person needs to do, for their own good and the good of this sport is to stop comparing Kobe to Jordan. To me it clearly shows how little they know about the sport and about being a good journalist. They can't seem to find anything original to say about Kobe Bryant to save their lives or their careers. In case they skipped the news, he just achieved something even MJ did not. Perhaps it is time to understand that 24 and 23 are the two of the greatest players this sport ever produced and if they want new fans to love this sport and marvel at history being written in front of them then they need to stop sounding like stuck records and find a whole new bunch of lines to describe Kobe instead of the cliché rubbish we have been hearing forever.

While I'm on the subject matter of being stuck, some of the Laker fan need to get over Shaq and move on. I play poker a lot and often with Dr. Buss, and let me tell you that one can tell a lot about a man by the way he plays poker. Dr. Buss is no different, every time he is putting his money in the middle, it is not because he is loyal to the sport or loves the other guy who is in the pot, it is simply because he is there to win. Shaq in his last year with Lakers was what I call a 'Big Slick' a unsuited Ace and a King. A hand any good poker player will tell you, looks very good but you have to be an idiot to push in all your money with it, and Dr. Buss is not idiot, he knew his hand was not worth pushing 'All in' with but certainly attractive enough to trade for some good players. Now some of you will all get knotted up in your underwear about how Shaq has since then won a championship and Kobe the Laker savior has not. Now this where Mitch is the Achilles heel, Riley knew that he had a lethal torpedo in Wade and just needed a good encasing to package the missile. Mitch on the other hand could not even find Kobe a partner who has even half the talent of the young Shaq, Jerry signed form Orlando. I still don't think these Lakers will win a championship as long as the other wheel is someone called Odom. Now if Mitch had the charisma or the vision to pull in someone like a KG (who is completely being wasted) it is is going to be primetime 'SHOWTIME" in Laker land again. But then again till that happens people will keep wasting time comparing 24 to 23 and pining for Shaq whose knees will hold him for another half a season.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe lovers talk about 24 being so widely disliked as if it were one of the great mysteries of the universe. But many NBA fans dislike him for one simple reason: He's a jerk.

No 4-game run of 50+ can (or should) make people forget what he was doing to opponents in the previous 20 games. Or the fact that he gave his big-time lawyers free rein to use his enormous wealth and status to destroy the reputation and life of a young woman with whom he (at best!) cheated on his wife.

If you think the only thing that matters in sports is winning/performance, then you should love steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. It should make little difference whether the players are humans or cyborgs.

But if you think sports has something to do with real men and women, then what they do off the court - and how they treat their opponents - matters. Under those criteria, so far Kobe is a failure.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous shermspot said...

I wonder if the previous poster is/was a Michael Jordan fan? He got into fights with his teammates in practice, was a gambling addict, had other women outside of his marriage many times over, and was one of the biggest trash talkers of all time.

He was a great basketball player though, and I loved to watch him play, just as I love to watch Kobe play.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Bernard Moon said...

PROPS TO KOBE... COMING CLOSE TO MJ

Kobe is just showing he's coming close to MJ. I've always believe for the past decade if MJ played in his prime during this era that he would have AVERAGED OVER 42 PTS/GAME (especially the year he averaged 37 pts/game) and pulled a string of 60 gamers & over 90 pts in one game. The no-hand check rules and other features of today's game would have let players like MJ have a field day. HOW COULD LAME REGGIE MILLER AT 38 YRS. STILL HAVE 30 POINT NIGHTS?

The previous anonymous poster doesn't know too much about ballin and history. How could MJ at 40+ yrs. old average over 20 pts/game? He could not have done the same during his era because they grabbed you, elbowed you, and threw you down (it doesn't matter if a few of the players were skinny. i can name a lot of skinny/small players today). The defense was more intense if you really watched games back then, and the average player was a lot better than today regardless of size.

Anyway, Kobe deserves props. He is the best in the league.

8:15 PM  

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