North by Northwest
The Kobe Compass, Free Agent musings, and I’m on Twitter.
–Much was said about Kobe’s legacy during the postseason. Some argued that he didn’t need a fourth ring to solidify his place in history. Others countered that the Shaqtacular monkey on his back weighed his historical training camp down, literally and figuratively. I found myself among the latter group because of who Kobe is: an enigma. A deaf, color blind, great-grandfather at a stoplight has better chance of guessing correctly than the average fan trying to interpret Kobe’s sincerity at any given moment. It wouldn’t be far fetched to think that even Kobe struggles to understand this. He’s like a pitcher whose changeup is five mph slower than his fastball; the difference between throwing a wiffle ball and an acid-tipped dart is barely discernible.
Kobe haters and fans continue to play a ridiculous game of tug-of-war over his status as the game’s top dog and the quality of his character while Kobe: Doin’ Work (the film itself and the whispers about creative differences) simply reaffirms the idea that the true Kobe behind the mask isn’t for us to know. All of this to say, as the prime of his career becomes more distinguished and his H-O-F plaque more finely detailed, it’s easier to accept the mystery of Kobe the person because Kobe the player is easier to define. And this is okay, because without Kobe the basketball player nobody gives a damn about Kobe the person; to wit–and this is true of any NBA superstar–the egg came before the game of PR chicken.
As I thought about Kobe’s fourth ring and his “game’s signature player” cubby at the school for the basketball gods–sandwiched between the league’s glorious past and its onrushing future–I donned my Captain Obvious hat and realized that a compass is the best metaphor for the journey of Kobe the player. He had four basketball personalities in his life that pushed him to this point, where his legacy settles comfortably in the annals of the all-timers.
North - Michael Jordan: Kobe’s idol and the guy he imitated to a T during his early years, Jordan was the north star of Kobe’s ideals and desire. A beacon of rugged competitiveness characterized by winning, scoring, dominating all facets of the game and a megawatt smile, Jordan rose to the highest points in the sky and the game, giving Kobe an outline and something of gleaming brilliance to aspire to.
East – Joe “Jellybean” Bryant: Kobe’s dad, known for being a hot dog on the court in Philly (east coast), went to Europe (eastern hemisphere) where his showmanship was more appreciated. He gave Kobe his talent and an unmistakable genetic imprint, but so much of what Jellybean’s game stood for, Kobe steadfastly rejected. Kobe, though flashy at times, is a healthier and more organic part of the team game than his father ever was. His mother must have been a soy bean. There’s also the whole “growing up in Italy thing” that made it harder for Kobe to understand himself in a normalized American context. That, coupled with a less fluid version of Jordan-inspired marketing, paints the picture of the guy that we struggle to understand.
West – Shaq/Tim Duncan: Two big men that dominated the wild west and laid claim to ownership of the post Jordan era. Shaq played big brother and made the world wonder if Kobe could win a ring without him, while Duncan reinforced the idea that one truly great superstar, surrounded by the right high caliber parts, can win multiple rings, something Kobe will try to accomplish next year.
South – LeBron: The main threat to Kobe’s reign as king of the league, LeBron represents the ticking clock as Kobe’s career enters its latter years. LeBron’s rapid ascension at such a young age underscores the truth that nothing is forever and, as far as this metaphor is concerned, the south will one day rise.
Conclusion: By winning his fourth ring, Kobe’s legacy went northwest–simultaneously distancing himself from Shaq and getting closer to Jordan–and found a direction to call his own.
–A few thoughts on the free agency movement and shaking:
1) Magic Haul: It’s hard not to love what the Magic have done. Reeling in Vince was underrated move. Even though he’s 32, VC is fresh off a few underrated seasons playing well and learning how to be more of a facilitator. Surrounded by dead-eye shooters and a beast inside, he’ll be freed up to pick and choose his spots. He’s a tougher cover than Turkoglu ever was, and should thrive in a hometown show-and-prove situation.
Retaining Marcin Gortat and signing Brandon Bass complete the roster makeover necessary to get the most out of the VC/Jameer Nelson backcourt tandem. Going big with Howard and Bass/Gortat encourages the wings to penetrate because baseline/paint help opens up offensive rebounding lanes for that tandem down low. It’s also not hard to imagine a higher percentage of VC’s ISO jumper/fadeaway caroms claimed by Orlando’s long, active frontcourt. Who knows, maybe they’ll let Bass take Howard’s free throws, too.
2) The East is Beast: The Magic can throw Howard out there with Gortat/Bass. The Cavs can play a Shaq/Ilgauskas combo. The Celtics can run Perk/KG/Sheed all at the same time. I’m excited to see how the matchups will play out when these contenders meet. Will coaches use speed to exploit size, or will size meet size as 14-foot front court duos clash?
3) Artest/Ariza: Not sure about the Artest signing yet. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will work out well. Still sad Ariza chose the Rockets over the Cavs, though. Ariza-Artest would have been the fifth subplot in a 2010 Cavs-Lakers Finals after Kobe vs. LeBron, Shaq vs. Kobe (first to five rings), LeBron’s 2010 status and Cleveland’s title drought. The basketball blogosphere would spontaneously combust.
–In 2002, a social networking website was launched by a guy in silicon valley. It was the first of its kind and looked to revolutionize the way the world communicated. It had some initial success in America. I used it and thought it could be a big part of my life if it caught on.
In ’06-07 a basketball player started an internet revolution by blogging about his life. He was quirky, funny and one-of-a-kind. His reign as an internet pioneer looked like it would last for a long time and become a staple of basketball information consumption. His style became imbued in many of our lives as a fresh alternative to a league that was become duller and more corporate by the day.
Now, both are afterthoughts.
The player is Gilbert Arenas and the website is Friendster.
Unlike Friendster, which is a smash hit in Asia but failed to capitalize on innovative American marketing strategies and the college network scene, Gilbert’s problem may only be temporary, a knee injury, or a glitch. As I watch NBA players interact with fans via Twitter and build their own online personalities, I miss Gilbert; the proper grammar and solid sentence structure built by a middle-man/journalist; the stories that you couldn’t make up; and the buzz that, coupled with late-game heroics, made him the most compelling regular season player the league has seen this decade.
Please Gilbert, don’t become the NBA’s version of Friendster.
And speaking of Twitter, I’m on there. You can follow me: @JakeAppleman
I was going to go with @therealapplesauce but I heard the general counsel at Mott’s loves busting heads over copyright infringement.
Anyway, here’s some of what you’ve been missing:
“NBA players should play Summer Sanders League instead. Swim around a pool next to blondes in bathing suits while shouting, “REEEEEE-WIND!” 5:37, July 15th
“Despite all that he brings to the team, the film made about Anderson Varejao’s new contract was panned by critics who called it a flop.” 3:11, July 9th
“First Odom, now Artest? Is LA trying to annex Queens? And if so, who’s next? Kevin James? The King James of Queens…” 8:28, July 2nd
“Not sure what I’m doing nor why I’m here. I would try and get people to follow me, but I don’t know where I’m going.” 5:39, June 18th. My first tweet!