Matt at Hardwood Paroxysm recently had an interesting idea. He decreed that today, March 11, would be Kobe Bryant Blog Day. And given that there is no governing body for such decrees, it was up to the merits of the decree itself to determine whether KBBD would be. And lo it hath come to pass.
The funny thing is, if (like some) you were to reduce the world to black and white and eliminate all the pretty shades of grey, Matt would have to called a 'Kobe Hater' (remember, I got rid of the grey). But to his great credit, he realizes that he's really just been playing the devil's advocate, making the counter-argument to the effusive praise that is heaped on Kobe in so many outlets. Those who criticize Kobe (myself included) still recognize how transcendent he is on a basketball court. Most of the time I refuse to join the chorus singing his praises, because, well, I never much liked choral music. But Matt's idea was to have this one day where everyone would blog about his talents, sincerely and without irony - and then we could go back to criticizing him the next day. It's an interesting idea. And it's going to drive HP's traffic through the friggin' roof. That Matt - crazy like a fox he is.
ClipsNation can be forgiven if we have a more tortured relationship with KB than most. After all, he snubbed the Clippers' contract offer 4 summers ago when he was a free agent (some would say he reneged). And of course there's that whole killing the Clippers on a regular basis thing and the owning LA bit. But there's a reason Elgin Baylor jumped through all those hoops to free up maximum dollars to sign the guy, and there's a reason the Clippers felt jilted and heartbroken when he went back to the Lakers. He's that good.
And I think we may be finding out just how good he is this season.
About a year ago, March 16 2007, the Lakers were riding a 7 game losing streak. A team that had once been 26-13 was now 33-32 and heading the wrong way in the playoff race. Playing the Blazers at Staples, the Lakers were down by 7 with less than 2 minutes remaining, and it seemed certain they would lose their 8th straight and drop to .500 for the first time on the season. In the final 100 seconds, Kobe made not one, not two, but three three pointers, each more unlikely than the one before, to force the game into overtime. It's not like he snuck up on the Blazers - he had scored 47 of the Lakers 89 to that point in the game, and they were completely committed to having someone other than Kobe beat them. They doubled him off the ball, they tripled him once he got it. And none of it mattered. In each case, he managed to create the smallest sliver of daylight and drained the three. It was other worldly. It was unfair. Perhaps that's the gist of why people sometimes feel compelled to criticize him - it's just not fair. He's just so much better than everyone else, and where's the fun in that? He finished that game with 65 as the Lakers won in overtime. He then proceeded to lead the Lakers on a five game winning streak in which he AVERAGED almost 54 points per game. The Lakers average margin of victory in those 5 games was 4 points - they needed everything he gave them. He carried that Laker team into the playoffs.
And like I said, he's better this season. Why? Because he has a better team around him. And it turns out, Kobe Bryant gets it. We've been watching the post-Shaq Kobe, thinking 'He's selfish' and 'He should get his teammates involved.' And he's been thinking 'Pass to Smush Parker or shoot over the double team?' and choosing the one that helped his team the most. He wants to win. That's all he wants. And he will do whatever gives his team the best chance to win.
And this is what makes the Lakers so incredibly dangerous this season. They have a team that has enough talent to beat any opponent in the league on any given night. But if, for whatever reason, that team is not functioning at the highest level in one game or another, they still have an individual who can beat any opponent in the league on any given night. We saw how potent this can be recently. Against the Mavericks, with Pau Gasol suffering his worst performance as a Laker, with his teammates combining to shoot 18 for 60, Kobe scored 52 and simply won the game. He scored 22 of the Lakers 28 4th quarter points and 8 more in overtime.
But he's equally content to sit back and watch the second unit put a game away. Or to draw the defense's attention while Ronny Turiaf slips a pick and then to deliver the perfect pass. It should also be noted that after several seasons of slacking on defense, he's once again earning his reputation as one of the league's best on ball defenders. It seems hard to imagine that he could be taking 7 fewer shots per game as compared to two seasons ago, and STILL be second in the league in scoring. But that's exactly what is happening. And the Lakers are winning - a lot. See, he doesn't have to score 50 or more in 4 consecutive games just to make sure the Lakers make the playoffs. But when they need that 50 point game, he's fully capable of delivering it. It's a combination that has a nice 'ring' to it.
I often wonder what would have happened had Kobe signed with the Clippers in the summer of 2004. Would the Clippers be the toast of LA and the NBA? Would I now be a huge Kobe Bryant fan? I don't think I would - I'm the guy, after all, who taught his 2 year daughter to say 'Kobe's a punk.' I don't think I will ever 'like' him, for whatever reason. But I see how good he is. I'm not stupid.
Happy Kobe Bryant Blog Day everybody!