Killer Instinct Never Lacking in Bryant
A week ago when Kobe Bryant turned the NBA on its head, I ran out the line from “Lawrence of Arabia,” in which Peter O’Toole announces, “For some men, nothing is written.”
But there’s more to the story. Lawrence says it after going back into the Nefud Desert to save a comrade whose fate, insists Lawrence’s friend, Sherif Ali, “is written.” However, Lawrence is later obliged to execute the man he saved to keep peace among the rival tribes under him.
“What ails the Englishman?” asks Auda Abu Tayi, played by Anthony Quinn, afterward.
“That man that he killed was the man he brought out of the Nefud,” says Ali, played by Omar Sharif.
“Ah,” says Auda, “it was written then.”
Leaving aside the question of personal destiny, some things are written. In basketball, five players will beat one, however brilliant, a given everywhere else that Phil Jackson has to assert daily.
Bryant doesn’t dispute it, in theory, but he has said he didn’t want to shoot so much all season. Meanwhile, his attempts went from 24 in December to 31 in January.
Of course, he made a lot (48%), averaging 44 points in the most awesome month since Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or Dr. James Naismith.
Of course, Bryant’s points fired up the national debates about whether he was selfish, devious, phony, etc. It’s looney tunes and has been since the breakup of the Laker dynasty.
Bryant went from boy next door to diva, but he wasn’t evil. His image perished in a perfect storm -- his arrest, giving up Shaquille O’Neal’s name, the Lakers’ fall -- some of which was his fault and some of which wasn’t.
Bryant was relatively lucid when he played alongside O’Neal because he knew they were the best team. Bryant might still take only 15 shots in easy wins -- but there aren’t many.
Anyone who says he doesn’t make teammates better isn’t paying attention.
Now No. 7 in the West, they weren’t expected to make the playoffs -- back when no one knew they’d start the unknown Smush Parker and there was still hope for Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom.
Jackson, asked Friday why Odom has gone “MIA,” said Lamar was depressed about the Sacramento game. Lamar said, “It’s just ball.” No matter what anyone says, Odom takes his 11.8 shots; there’s a better chance that Kobe will stop shooting than that Lamar will start.
As for Brown, when he gets the ball, he often turns into a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife.
Bryant’s career is not only the stuff of legend but of tragedy. Few were ever given as much and lost as much, but last week’s reaction across the league showed the pendulum is swinging back.
Chicago’s Tyson Chandler: “We are witnessing greatness right now and we need to understand that.”
Miami’s Dwyane Wade: “I think everybody called every player in the league.... Maybe I’ll go home and play my video game and maybe I’ll get 80.”
Indiana Coach Rick Carlisle: “I don’t feel so bad about the 45 he got on us now.”
Toronto’s Jalen Rose, e-mailing the New York Post’s Pete Vecsey: “His expression never changed. And he hit some AMAZING shots ... contested LONG 3’s ... double pump-fake jumpers.... I’ve never seen anything like it... from ANYONE! It was like playing NBA Live but on the arcade level ... just ... BANANAS.... WOW!!!”
Houston’s Tracy McGrady: “In the last 10 games, Kobe, what has gotten into you, son?”
Chris McCosky, Detroit News: “We probably can stop the debate on the leading candidate for most valuable player.... Chauncey Billups may be driving the best team in basketball, but the best player in basketball is undeniably Kobe Bryant.”
It was like a thunderclap on Mt. Olympus. In 44 years since Wilt got 100, only two players got 70 -- and both were stunts in meaningless season finales, pursuing scoring titles.
Denver’s David Thompson got his 73 in 1978, but San Antonio teammates then pounded the ball into George Gervin, who got 63 and edged Thompson, 27.22 to 27.15.
San Antonio’s David Robinson got 71 in 1994 to edge O’Neal, 29.8 to 29.3, just one reason Shaq didn’t like the beloved Admiral.
Bryant got 81 with people guarding him, bringing the Lakers back from 18 down, and the people who pooh-poohed it made themselves look small.
In Miami, Coach Pat Riley said lots of guys could do it with 70 shots (Riley would be thrilled if his big guy could stay out there long enough to take 70, but Bryant took 46.)
O’Neal declined to comment. (Why didn’t he just take out a newspaper ad and say “I’m jealous?”) Antoine Walker said he would have clotheslined Bryant (as if he had to worry; not even Kobe can get 81 in the 27 minutes Riley lets Walker play.)
“The thing that probably separates the two is Michael Jordan was loved and adored by everyone,” Rose said. “So because of that, if he goes out and has 81 points, we celebrate it. Not that it’s not celebrated anyway but I think when it’s Kobe Bryant, sometimes people say, ‘Well, he still took 45 or 50 shots.’ ...
“Scott Skiles had 30 assists in a game. I don’t think one of the players thought about going to clothesline him. Guys have their career games and career highs all the time.”
For Bryant, as for Jordan, everything depends on winning, but Kobe always knew that, the only problem being what he’d dare in the process. What happens now with his psychedelic shot selection, on the road, where the Lakers will be behind a lot?
The next time Bryant gets 20 points in the first quarter, a little voice will ask, “Could this be the night?” If this is a legend, as opposed to a carnival act, he’ll tell it to shut up.
Faces and Figures
A(nother) new start: The Ron Artest-Peja Stojakovic deal can’t hurt either team, because both were out on their feet. The nosediving Pacers got a great shooter to go with their post game. The Kings were No. 12 in the West with Stojakovic, an upcoming free agent, struggling to fit in without his mentor, Vlade Divac.... Proving he can still disown anything he or anyone else says, Artest said he was enthusiastic -- a day after his agent derailed the deal. Said Sacramento co-owner Gavin Maloof after a 15-minute chat with Artest: “He seems like a nice guy on the phone.” ... Said a Western Conference team official: “It’ll either work or it won’t and if it doesn’t, they’ll have a tradable asset.”
Everything else that happened last week had a subtext: Please don’t leave us. The Timberwolves, trying to keep Kevin Garnett, and the Celtics, trying to keep Paul Pierce, swapped problems. Minnesota dumped Michael Olowokandi, who’d been benched, and Wally Szczerbiak, who acknowledged he and Garnett were never close (“Chemistry, there’s been no secret about the me-and-Kevin Garnett thing. They must have seen something that wasn’t working. It’s not exactly an epiphany.”) Boston dumped overpriced Mark Blount ($7 million a season through 2010) and Ricky Davis. Boston GM Danny Ainge assured his buddy, Minnesota GM Kevin McHale, Davis wasn’t as bad as everyone said. Of course, if Davis was OK, why didn’t Ainge keep him?... McHale charged into the dressing room after a recent loss with team consultant Rex Chapman and blasted several players, including Garnett. Reports differ as to how Garnett took it.
Desperate to keep Chris Bosh, Toronto axed GM Rob Babcock in his second season. Babcock lost a power struggle with Coach Sam Mitchell, who saved himself by winning over Bosh, who’s so tired of being asked what he’ll do, he’s thinking about signing an extension this summer. “I think him [Mitchell] being here would affect my decision, of course,” Bosh said. “I haven’t been here long. but I’ve seen a lot of change in the locker room. I would be really content with keeping the same coaching staff and making sure they stay put.”
Desperate, period: Knick President Isiah Thomas was already taking the heat for this season’s disaster before a discharged marketing employee filed a sexual harassment suit against him and tore the lid off Madison Square Garden. Anucha Browne Sanders, a 43-year-old former Northwestern player, also charged she was sexually harassed by Stephon Marbury; that the team hired two of Marbury’s “unqualified” cousins and corporate boss James Dolan’s daughter’s boyfriend, who, Browne Sanders claimed, “forged his manager’s signature on multiple occasions, stole from the company and acted in a hostile and aggressive manner with many women on the staff.” ... Thomas, who received a prince-of-the-city welcome two years ago, is now plainly inconvenient. After he denied the charges in a news conference with MSG President Steve Mills at his side, there was a news blackout on the MSG network, which didn’t even mention it. Coincidentally, although it’s not reflected in the record, Thomas had begun to turn the situation around with Coach Larry Brown and a big, young roster.
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