SAN ANTONIO — On the court here, surrounded by hostile screams and rattling balloons and at least one dude in a black Lucha Libre mask, the new Lakers were struggling to find themselves.
Back in Newport Beach, their 140-character coach was doing his best to help.
“Matador Defense on Parker. His penetration is hurting us.”
“Gotta milk Pau in the post right now and D12. Will get good looks from it.”
“Post. Post. Post.”
Those were the direct quotes of Kobe Bryant sitting at home with his surgically repaired left leg elevated and his dander up during the Lakers’ 91-79 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday in the playoff opener. In an unprecedented move for a star of his stature, the injured Bryant tweeted his feelings about the game, during the game, for more than 2 million followers to digest.
It was cool. It was insightful. It was a bold new testament to social media’s ability to connect the commoner with royalty.
If you believe Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni’s rolled eyes afterward, it was also annoying.
“It’s great to have that commentary,” said D’Antoni bitingly.
He added, “He’s a fan right now, he’s a fan, you guys put a little more importance on that kind of fan. He gets excited, he wants to be part of it, I don’t blame him, it’s good.”
Bryant responded to the postgame statement by tweeting, “A fan?? Lol.”
This snarky exchange leads one to wonder if this sort of public communication is worth it for Bryant or the Lakers.
That was the topic of postgame debate with folks lining up on two distinct sides of the issue. With the Lakers losing this one because they did not have Bryant’s shooting or leadership, he remains the story here, even from nearly 1,200 miles away.
On one side, Bryant was only tweeting things he says to the Lakers anyway, so what’s the harm in making them public as he deals with his frustration at not being part of a Lakers playoff run for the first time in 17 years?
“He’d be saying that same stuff right to our faces if he was here, tell us what to do and when to do it,” said Steve Blake. “I’m sure he’s feeling terrible not being here, and he just wants to stay connected.”
On the other side, because Bryant’s stature elevates the tweets to gospel status, is it good for the team to publicly receive strategy and scoldings from someone who is not on the sidelines to help them adjust or implement? Even though Bryant is obviously tweeting out of his longtime love for the Lakers, can’t some of this be interpreted as public first-guessing of his teammates and coaches?
“We’re the guys that have to control what we do on the floor,” said Dwight Howard.
Bryant began tweeting late in the season, and he has kept followers updated with messages about the beginning of his recovery from a torn Achilles’ tendon. For Twitter sports fans, he is a must-read. But when Sunday’s game began, the commentary seemed directly toward his team.
Bryant began hopefully: “I like how Nash is moving so far, both teams a lil out of rhythm to start.”
He immediately called for the ball to go inside: “Gotta get to the block. See wat Spurs r gonna do with Pau and D12.”
Like many Lakers fans, he became frustrated with the Spurs’ open three-pointers: “Gotta keep the spurs offense in front of our d. They r great at penetrating and pitching to their shooters.”
As Gasol was attempting only three shots in the second quarter, Bryant challenged him: “What would I say if I was there right now? Pau, get your [rear] on the block and don’t move till u get it.”
Midway through the third quarter, Bryant was finally liking what he saw, and wrote, “This game has a ‘steal one’ written all over it for us.”
But that was before Manu Ginobli made the AT&T; Center shake with a bank shot and two three-pointers to end the quarter with the Spurs suddenly leading by 13. As the game ended, an obviously frustrated Bryant concluded, “Nothing worse than watching your bothers struggle and u can’t do crap about it.”
But soon, he was hopeful again, writing, “On to Game 2, I will be watching from the crib again in a pau jersey and Laker face paint ha! All jk aside We will be fine on Wed.”
Later, though, he began to have second thoughts about his involvement in the game, and his afternoon tweets ended with, “I see my tweeting during the game is being talked about as much as the game itself. Not my intention, just bored as I guess #notagain.”
Does that mean Bryant will not tweet during the Lakers’ second game here Wednesday? It would be unfortunate if he felt as if he couldn’t stay connected to the team. It would be unfortunate if we couldn’t read what he’s thinking. Here’s hoping he can figure out a way to make it work without making his coaches and teammates feel threatened during this most vulnerable of times. He surely understands. After all, can you imagine his reaction in a locker room after hearing that an injured player was tweeting about him?
The only thing for certain is, on a day when the Lakers lost the ball and their focus, they missed their leader so badly, 140 characters can’t begin to describe it.