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Monday, January 14th, 2013 at 1:22 pm  |  42 responses

L.A. Noire

Kobe Bryant is playing as well as ever. His Lakers, not so much. Can anyone solve this mystery?

Originally published in SLAM 165

by Ben Collins / @globesoundtrack

God, this is painful.

Math can’t keep up with how badly Kobe Bryant wants to win this Knicks game. L.A. is down 10. Kobe’s been digging around the attic for 46 minutes and has just found a respirator the Lakers are willing to stuff up their noses.

He’s just hit a step-back three over a couple of people. He was falling out of bounds.

No one can get a rebound on the other end. No one can do it. They’re going to lose this game. This respirator and this respirator analogy have some real holes in them.

Kobe is a gorgeous, pristine yacht and the Lakers are trying to drive him up Fifth Avenue. It is painful because Kobe is a yacht, still. Not a dinghy. Not a 34-year-old antique, as projected. And his teammates are anchors or cannonballs or ankle weights or pains in the ass or, overall, useless tonight, nautical or not.

I can’t imagine being Kobe right now. I can’t imagine being Kobe and not punching everyone out on the way through the tunnel.

You know those monks who get really good at life and realize that life isn’t as fair and compassionate as they are? There are seemingly two options from there: End up on fire in a public square or get even quieter.

I’m not calling Kobe Bryant a monk. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m just asking you to think about it.

Talk to Tim Grover. Talk to him about MJ and Kobe. Talk to him about the other relative specks in the NBA stratosphere he’s trained along with them. Talk to him about clichés, because they appear to be correct. Kobe gets up at 4 a.m. every day to do his workout. It’s in part because he doesn’t sleep, or he can’t sleep. It’s in part because he wants to be about four hours better than everybody else every day.

Who is the person that makes Kobe get up so ridiculously early in the morning all these days? Who signs up for that internship from hell?

“He does,” Grover says. “He gets me up. He puts that on himself. Those are his hours. Great players just find the time.”

Think about that the next time you see a loose ball go un-dived for. Think about that from Kobe’s eyes.

***

It’s two weeks before that Knicks game. Kobe’s at the top of the AT&T Center in Los Angeles showing off his new shoe. It takes two elevators to get up here. He arrived by helicopter.

He admits that right now, at 34, he’s playing some of the best basketball of his life.

“I don’t really have an explanation for it,” he says. “I don’t know where it’s coming from.”

Did he feel it? Did he know he got his step back?

“Oh, for sure,” Kobe says. “I don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve been striking at light speed like I used to. I can’t explain it. Maybe we’ll have to use E=mc2 to explain it. But it’s there.”

Bryant is having a phenomenal offensive season by any scoring metric. At press time, he’s leading the League in scoring. He’s shooting at the highest clip of his career. He’s passing the stats test. He’s passing the eye test. It doesn’t matter. He has never looked better and the Lakers, in the Kobe Era, have never looked worse.

You can pin all of this on the helicopter, the disconnect, but that wouldn’t be right. You can’t fault a player for wanting all of his teammates to play like they deserve a helicopter.

Well, you can, but you’d probably be wrong.

Five rings.

Tomorrow night against the Nuggets, things will click. The Lakers will win. Kobe will take a backseat to see the team around him. He’ll only take 17 percent of his team’s shots and he’ll pretend to play point guard. It’ll work, temporarily, then they’ll win one more game in the next three weeks and no one will be able to explain it.

There’s a story going around right now. It’s true, and it’s on a women’s website called xojane.com. If Kobe has ever been there, I will eat the eighth edition of his shoe. The story’s about a set of parents who adopted a teenage murderer. It’s written by the parents’ blood daughter. In it, that daughter says she had “developed an excellent false smile” when she was forced to talk about how awesome her newfound life was with her brand-new murderer-brother.

Kobe has developed that and lost it intentionally. He is sick of having murderer-brothers, and he is sick of the NBA being filled with murderer-brothers whom he has to defend for no real reason.

Yes, Smush Parker is the murderer in this analogy. And so is Chris Mihm and Luke Walton and Brian Cook. And so, tonight, is Andre Iguodala, for some reason.

Someone asks Kobe if Iguodala can cover him better than anyone in the NBA.

“Aah,” he says. This means no.

“Is he in the higher percentage of defenders?”

He’s a reporter. He’s doing a good job. He’s trying to get Kobe to say Iguodala shut him down because he had 14 points in a win.

His answer is now a resigned, forced calm.

“He does a good job,” he says. “He’s a good defender.”

He didn’t say this: “I don’t think you understand this. I got 14 points on purpose. I got 14 instead of 30 because I chose to do so. I got 14 points because I needed Antawn Jamison to get 33. I needed him to get that to prove he still could. I got Jodie Meeks 21 points tonight just by standing there. I had 8 assists. I’m a shooting guard. Did you see that?”

He didn’t say any of that. He should have, but he didn’t.

Keep talking to Grover. Talk to him about the days off. Talk to him about the fact that those don’t exist. Talk to him about bringing that whole circus on the road to Europe, to the Philippines, to China. Talk to him about making an icebath in a Taiwanese hotel.

Oh, right, after the workout, it’s not a nap. It’s a 15-minute ice bath. Every day. Baseball players have steroids. They get huge, play until they’re 42, then their heads get too big and they retire. Kobe has 4 a.m. workouts and ice baths.

Turn on talk radio. They’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Lakers.

There’s a man who calls into The Max & Marcellus Show. His name is Shaul. He’s made a lot of money in tailored suits, he says. He has a thick, cartoon accent. He is somewhere between 35 and 175 years old. He has discovered the source of the Lakers’ every worry.

The world is separated into weenars and loosehurs, he says. Jerry Buss is a weenar. Phil Jackson is the ultimate weenar. Mike D’Antoni is a loosehur. Mike Brown? Loosehur. The paramount loosehur is Jim Buss. According to Shaul’s investigation, Jim Buss has bet on horses 150 times and won zero races. Loosehur.

Max Kellerman asks if, maybe, there is any possible way Kobe is at fault.

“Listen to Kobe, how he talk: ‘This coach (former coach Phil Jackson), look what he did to our team. This coach, he took player like Luke Walton—he make him superstar,’” Shaul says. No, Kobe’s not the problem. Kobe should be hiring the coaches, he says.

This is a man who believes that the heart and soul of the Lakers’ problems lie in a spell cast upon the whole franchise by the loser son of the owner of the Lakers.

But Kobe Bryant? Him? The problem? Don’t start talking crazy.

Talk to the Nike people. Talk to them about how Kobe is both the best and most demanding player they have to work with.

Talk to Kobe about the first time he walked onto their campus in Beaverton and started telling everyone what to do.

“I came on board with Nike and was like, ‘This is what I want. And this is what I want. Ya-da-da-da-da.’ And they just start looking at me like…” He makes a cartoon version of a puzzled look. “I was like, I don’t know! I thought this was how it was supposed to be.”

Think about this when you think about the concept of a backup point guard on the Lakers. Think about being him. Think about how many times you’d call your mother, your wife and say the words, “I don’t know. Is the NBA really right for me?” Think about saying yes to a question your whole life. Then think about saying no.

***

At the end of this Denver game, the post-game show is buzzing on every TV in the media dining room at Staples. When the Lakers look like they’ve figured it out, the glow from the post-game anchors can cook an egg. The optimism is a tangible, electric beam.

One of the anchors is talking about how important it is to get Kobe’s teammates “engaged” and “motivated.” She’s talking about Dwight Howard, really, who had 28 and 20 and was bouncy and jawing and used JaVale McGee’s shoulders as dunk handlebars all night. That’s the challenge, she says. Keeping everybody attentive.

There’s a guy in the room listening to this, eating popcorn. Sort of surreally, he yells at the TV. “It’s not that simple, you stupid…” then he uses a word for a woman that only the British and people in prison can get away with.

OK. This should fill up any decent person with a Big Gulp-sized carton of piss and vinegar. A lot of me wants to go over and spill it all over him. “You’re terrible. Stop being so terrible.”

Yep, somebody should say that to him for the following reasons:

1) Everyone in this room has clearly put in some time being considerably less terrible than this guy. Objectively, this guy sucks, and he should hear about it.

“You should really be less terrible.”

Kobe could say this. Every day. He ragged on Smush Parker specifically, but that kind of player is the rule, not the exception.

He does not do this. He does not rag on people in huddles or in public. Not really. Not anymore. And he has five rings. There’s got to be something to that.

There’s your life lesson.

And 2) The second reason is that this guy is wrong.

It is that simple.

If everybody played like Kobe, if everybody worked like Kobe, everybody would be great. Everybody gets a helicopter.

It is that simple. It is also humanly impossible.

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  • Jay Cutler

    The only problem with this puff piece ‘Kobe wants to win more than god himself’ is that Kobe hasn’t played a lick of defense in YEARS. Not that he gets beat.. He doesn’t even TRY.

  • LakeShow

    Your right… he stands straight and tall and watches players go around him and no one notices this except you…

    Your a moron sir.

    If you want to make a point say that Kobe is not the All-Time defender that his accolades say he is.

    Kobe has defensive lapses more than he should. Admitted. But when you say asinine comments like “Kobe hasn’t played a lick of defense in YEARS” it just puts you in the category of hater, because obviously you don’t watch him play regularly if you don’t think he hasn’t been a factor on the defensive end for YEARS…

  • LakeShow

    Solid write-up!
    It was all over the place, and I loved it!
    I swear Jim Buss is the true mole that is destroying the Lakers from the inside.

  • Arthur

    I love that last photo.

  • patrick

    Kobe gets up at 4am? i don’t believe that. It’s extremely unhealthy..sleep is one of the most important aspects to good health

  • bike

    It is pretty weird. Kobe is playing lights out and Dwight is second in the league in rebounding and a top five shot blocker. That in itself should have translated into a winning record. But it hasn’t. Right now they lack something no one can put their finger on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Junior-Taylor/100003121138419 Junior Taylor

    Come on now, Lake. You know what he is saying has some truths to it. Kobe hasn’t played consistent defense since about the 08-09 season. Don’t get me wrong, he still plays decent man D but in terms of his all-around defense it’s been lacking. He does a lot of finger pointing (for his teammates to cover his assignment) while going for ill-advised steals and he has this habit of not respecting the non-star players he is guarding.

  • LakeShow

    Yes, I do… Which is why I said:

    “Kobe has defensive lapses more than he should. Admitted.”

    !! I 100% agree with what you wrote. !! I really do.

    The one thing I do see slightly differently is the “bad steals” argument.

    KB getting in the passing lanes this year is being touted as reason why he is putting his team in bad defensive position, but I’ve watched and he has done more good than bad with his lane hawking.

    He has had some big momentum swinging moments off of big steals, and if he GOES for a steal he is getting it more than half the time.

    I didn’t take exception to what Jay Cutler was implying just to what he was actually saying: “Kobe hasn’t played a lick of defense in YEARS”

    That’s just a remark of a hater.

    Kobe has BAD lapses on defense that are unexplainable by me… He needs to do better, but to act like his defense is just awful night in and night out is a farce. And to not even take his offense into account while factoring his defense is even more stupid.

    I remember when CJ Miles had like 29 points last time the Cavs played the Lakers and everyone was like “oh man look how much Kobe sucks at defense, CJ Miles is schooling him…”
    Well look at his game last night. Miles had 5 points on 11% shooting….. You hear anyone talking about how great Kobe was on defense last night??? lol… No you never will.

    His defense plays less a part in the Lakers winning this year than people like to admit.

  • roscoe

    i think the truth is kb24′s knee is slowing him down & he plays D in pain to the best of his ability.

    playing solid perimeter D in the nba is no joke for a healthy 25 year old.

  • LakeShow

    I feel you view it more realistically than most.

    Per his age/ mileage/ offensive output, he isn’t going to be at the same spot as the younger guys. It’s unrealistic to expect great defense out of him nightly. People like to tote someone like Jason Kidd as an old guy who can still D up. And they are right to do that, but think about Kidd’s offensive game(lack there of). He pushes the ball and passes it then sits around the perimeter. He is as lack luster on offense as KB is on defense. People forget but MJ was not a great defender in his post 34 year old age either.

    I’ll stop making excuses now though.

    I just feel he is getting beat up too much for his defense this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Junior-Taylor/100003121138419 Junior Taylor

    If you’re going to defend Kobe’s defense despite the numbers telling a different story, fine but you’re fighting a losing battle if you bring up a 34yr old MJ’s defense. The man was still a top-notch defender late in his bulls career (100 defensive rating and 5.4 defensive win-shares) during the 98 season. the bulls ranked 3rd defensively in 2 important defensive categories (opp PPG and defensive rating). I doubt the bulls would have ranked that high if MJ wasn’t great defensively on the perimeter especially with the fact that Pip only played 44 games and Kukoc played the 4th most minutes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Junior-Taylor/100003121138419 Junior Taylor

    You have to admit though that when the team’s best player and supposed leader takes plays off on the defensive end it has a ripple effect on the rest of the team.

  • Jay Cutler

    By that logic, Kobe shouldn’t be having one of his greatest offensive seasons because of his knee pain. He’s dunking and shooting and blowing by defenders just fine. Wouldn’t it be strange if this injury primarily affected him by making it difficult for him to care where his man was on screens and cuts?

  • Jay Cutler

    Shh.. There’s mythmaking going on right now. Ignore decades of science emphatically showing that you’re eventually going to crash no matter how much of an “alpha male” you are if you think you can cheat sleep.

    Same with Kobe’s claim at one point that he shot 2000 jumpers a day one summer. Just believe it because he’s great.

  • Jay Cutler

    I’m not sure what the name-calling is supposed to achieve but ok.

    You can call them defensive “lapses” if you want but the simple fact is that considering he’s the leader (and so-called GOAT or at least GLOAT), it’s quite strange that dude can have so many lapses and yet glare and bully his teammates for being equally careless.

    How is that leadership? How is that greatness?

  • Max

    The rest of the team sucks just as bad as the Wizards?

  • LakeShow

    Yes, I do admit that.
    I’m not saying he is perfect, i’m saying KB’s defense is one of the least important reasons in regards to the Lakers recent demise.
    He played worse defense last year…

  • LakeShow

    No, I truly feel your a moron, sorry if that came off as a name calling.

    Everyone know’s that’s KB’s main weakness is not being able to take accountability as a leader and lead his team as well as the the greatest players in history. It’s the only reason why he isn’t in the TOP 3 all time.

  • LakeShow

    Carlos Boozer is an all time defensive win share great. GTFO.

    Your right about one thing. The BULLS were a GREAT defensive TEAM.

  • Conor

    He held Kyrie Irving to 14 & 7 (assists) last night. Stop your nonsense.

  • Conor

    The rest of the team’s inconsistency. From MWP to Gasol to the bench. Kobe, Howard, Nash, and Hill have been the most consistent. Thankfully, Clarke is there to spell the bigs & MWP now.

  • Ugh

    So “not playing a lick of defence” is the same as “having defensive lapses” now? And it’s not his not trying that’s the problem, but that he treats his teammates wrong and sets a bad example?

    You’re not very consistent, are you?

  • Marc

    He can defend with the best of them only if he’s trying, problem is he’s not motivated defending 95% of the league.. Give him the big names and he’ll defend them well, give him a less than stellar player, he just allows them to go back door on cuts, he’s good on ball.. Awful offball

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    You guys make me sick. Blah blah blah. Justify Kobe scoring this much on a team with DH, PGasol, Metta and Nash as much as you like. But why don’t you talk of how they’re one of the worst teams in the L, how other ‘team-first’ teams are stomping it in (OKC, LAC, IPacers, MH, NYC). Talk about DHoward’s fake ass smile and how he won’t be there next season because he needs more touches. Talk about how if they do make a run at it, they’ll be playing OKC or LAC in the first round. Talk about how next year they will all be a year older, another ring on the tree, can Nash still compete with his contemporaries (CP3, RWestbrook)? How defence orientated teams picking D’antoni would be theworst possible choice? Talk about that, don’t just blow smoke up Bryant’s arse. Talk real basketball, for once in a while. Just a suggestion (for the 99% of the rest of the world that does’nt live in LA)… SMH

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Trying much

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Lake. Past conflicts aside, it ain’t just chemistry. LAL are 21st in the L because they’re not swinging it, not enough touches, not enough rotations. D’antoni’s responce the other day (I can’t remember which, but I remember a losing effort) was “If we start hitting our threes we’ll be alright”… sad, sad, sad.

  • mike

    well maybe he gets to sleep at 9 or 10, i ve heard he trains like a boxer, 3 times a day 2 hours each session. one thing for sure, whatever he s doing, its working, so its safe to assume he s doing more- not just he s got the secret to doing it better.

  • Bored

    actually his defensive rating was pretty average before he got to the Bulls. like that 105 mark. last 3 seasons since joining the Bulls its like 96 or 97.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    y’all know the stories about Michael Jordan right? —– cuz that dude just didn’t sleep.

  • Comment_System

    Easy answer: Sucky bench.

  • LakeShow

    Shh.. There’s myth making going on right now. Ignore decades of Statistical achievements and Championship trophy’s and an obvious unbeatable work ethic to try and demean a man you don’t know, but hate…. for some reason…

  • LakeShow

    Precisely:
    Team defensive success = Individual defensive success.

  • mclaw3

    Now, if only Kobe’s teammates cared that much about winning, the Lakers would be alright. But unfortunately, he’s alone. He’s on a team full of players doing enough to get a check!

  • Bored

    yes it does!

    i cant believe how much i have been defending Kobe lately. everyone jumping on the “his D is making the Lakers lose” bandwagon. TEAM defense is killing them. you cant be in the last 2 or 3 places in the L at defense based on one players off-ball D. people need to get a grip!

  • Drig

    You do realize that he’s playing 38 minutes per game as a guard, is being heavily featured in the offense as a creator right??? Also, you do realize that NO player has the ability to play both ways at an elite level once they reach Kobe’s mileage don’t you?

    Kobe’s D has been lacking. And his D has cost the Lakers a few crucial possessions and by extension, a few games. But those are not the problems which ails the team. Pau’s role, communication on D, injuries and no bench consistency is what is really putting the hurt on the Lakeshow right now.

  • marc

    I do realize the mileage on the man. All I’m saying is if he puts half the effort he gives on defending the premiere guys on defending mid tier guys, that’s good enough, he can play elite defense on guys, so I’ve seen him put the effort. On the crucial moments, he guards the other teams best player well. I think he justs gets bored guarding other guys. I’m not saying stick to your man like glue, just some average D. you’ve seen it yourself if you watched any laker game. The other night on kyrie was excellent. ofcourse 38 minutes is heavy for his age but who else is gonna do it on the lakers bench?

  • Drig

    True his defensive intensity is dictated waay too much by his matchup for my liking. And agreed with the lack of any other option on the bench part. Somehow, the Lakers need to swing a trade to get a good defensive wing player for any combo of the bench players.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509819249 Gaurav P.

    You realize that not everyone is wired the same way right? Kobe has repeatedly said that he can get by on 5 hours of sleep, and that’s pretty believable I have friends who can sleep at 2 am and wake up at 8 am and still feel productive day after day. I, on the other hand, need to sleep 7 hours or I can’t function well.

    So its not that crazy to think that Kobe sleeps at 11 PM and wakes up at 4 AM. Also keep in mind that NBA players nap throughout the day.

  • LakeShow

    Seriously, as a Laker fan, I tire of defending the man, but I just don’t like non-truths being spread.
    Must retard the fire!

  • LakeShow

    That’s BS.
    Maybe they don’t care AS MUCH, but these guys are competitors.

  • Bored

    LOL! exactly the reason i started commenting on this site.

  • JL

    Nobody made it to the NBA doing enough just to get a check. These guys work harder than you would imagine.

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