Bryant still trying to write happy ending

Last tango in 2007-2008?

They don’t renew storied rivalries the way they used to although, happily for the Finals, the Scandal of the Century -- or at least Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- took the weekend off.

For three days, it seemed as if this basketball series were missing the basketball amid saturation coverage of defrocked referee Tim Donaghy’s claims.

Now it seems as if this basketball series is missing an actual series.

Not that the Lakers’ 3-1 deficit means it’s over, although you’d have to say their margin of error has shrunk dramatically.

One way or another, this was always going to be about Kobe Bryant, who would be hailed as the game’s best player or dismissed as a tragically flawed, teammate-spurning figure who hasn’t won one single title without Shaquille O’Neal. Guess which version they’re cueing up?


“Sounds like everybody is getting their ‘what happens when we lose’ stories together, huh?” said Derek Fisher, laughing, after being asked the third question about Bryant’s relationship with his teammates Saturday.

On the other hand, after what Bryant has been through in his career, what’s left for anyone to say?

As long as he isn’t accused of tanking the last game, it’ll be better than two springs ago.

As long as he doesn’t torch the Lakers’ directory from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Tex Winter, it’ll be better than last spring.

As long as Kobe doesn’t bite a teammate in the neck like Dracula, no one can say anything that wasn’t said up to the moment he got his MVP trophy and ESPN News anchor David Lloyd, noting the byplay with the other Lakers, mused:

“I don’t think I knew that Kobe was a well-liked guy on that team until this press conference. . . . He’s become a part of that team. I’m not sure he was before.”

If you had spent the preceding three seasons yoked to a team you couldn’t get out of the first round with, much less win a title, what’s the problem now?

If Bryant got nothing else out of those three seasons, other than an amazing highlight reel, it was the perspective he needed -- badly.

His serene confidence turned into edgy defiance. He even entertained doubts about his lifelong crusade, although he hid it as only he could.

In a little-noted first-person article for Dime Magazine in 2006, the man who said he knew that he had a “fate” awaiting him, not just a career -- at 5 years old -- wondered what it was all about.

“Am I supposed to obsess myself with winning, only to win, retire and wonder if all my sacrifices were worth it?” Bryant wrote. “Is it OK for me to sacrifice time away from my children, time watching them grow up, missing Easter, Christmas and other special events, to win a ring?”

Not that there seemed to be any rings in his immediate future, whatever they were worth. It was more like Bryant felt as if he had been wadded up and thrown away.

“I have been an outcast my entire life,” he wrote. “From being the only black kid in town in Italy all the way to when I was 17 and playing in the NBA.

“What separated me from others more consistently than skin color or age was my hunger. My mission. I’ve always been made to feel there was something wrong with wanting to win so badly and wanting to become the best at what you do. . . .

“I have faced so much criticism for my drive that at times it has alienated me from the majority, the people who are comfortable with second place, the people who hate me because I am not.”

Whether this is a plot reversal or a miracle, Bryant richly deserves it, even if he blew up last spring and lucked into staying because no trade could be found last fall.

Only someone with his commitment that goes beyond anything ever seen before could have seen this through.

So here he is . . . isn’t he?

Asked Saturday if he wanted an extension this summer, Bryant deflected the question as season-is-over stuff.

When the season is over, he’ll probably say the same thing. If the Lakers ask him to extend, I’d guess he’ll say no unless they’ve just won a title and perhaps not even then.

Being Kobe is preserving your options to the very end, waiting to see Andrew Bynum rejoin them next fall and what happens after that, all the way to July 1, 2009, the day Bryant can opt out.

If he glares at his teammates until it looks as if he might melt one, it makes a big difference if they improve as much as they did this season . . . not to mention the 21-year-old 7-footer they’ll get back next fall.

In the meantime, Coach Phil Jackson, who has seen this before in the days when Michael Jordan called teammates “my supporting cast,” says it’s fine.

“I think that’s an energy that a lot of players can’t stand up to,” Jackson said, “but we try to find players that can.”

On one hand, Zen. On the other, Kobe.

Of course, being Kobe is being amazed anyone could think this series is over.

For Bryant, the present is precious, the future uncertain -- something else you learn when you win your third title at 23 . . . then go years wondering when you’ll get another chance.

So there he was Saturday, looking as buoyant as if the Lakers were up, 3-1.

Actually, if they had been ahead, he would have been businesslike. Now, what the heck?

Describing his daughters’ dismay at the team’s predicament, which is apparently nonexistent, he said they just wanted him to read Harry Potter for them

“It was awesome,” said Bryant. "[Harry] had more problems dealing with Voldemort than what we have dealing with the media and the Celtics. So that was pretty awesome.”

Don’t cry for him, America.

Perspective, it’s everything.