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Is Kobe Dirty?

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You may or may not be aware that ClipperSteve is now a once weekly Laker blogger.  I write a weekly update for about.com on the Lakers in addition to the update I write on the Clippers.  Conflict of interest?  You betcha!  

It's no secret that I've never been a fan of Kobe the person.  As ClipperZoe would say, "Kobe's a punk."  But his second suspension of the season is interesting on a lot of levels.

First of all, how many players get suspended on plays were no foul was called (the Ginobili elbow)?  How many suspensions follow plays where no flagrant foul was called (the Jaric elbow)?  Does this indicate that the on-court officials are giving Kobe preferential treatment, or that the league office is targeting him?  It's probably more the former than the latter.

It was obvious that Stu Jackson was going to suspend Kobe after the Jaric elbow.  It was almost identical to the situation with Ginobili, so they had to respond accordingly.  It wasn't a question of whether he would be suspended - just how many games.  They could have handed down a longer suspension for the repeat offense.  But was either suspension justified?

Both Kobe and Marko (who, by the way, was playing monstrously good defense in that game) have said that Kobe didn't deserve the suspension, because the play was unintentional.  

Bryant said: "This is ridiculous. To suspend me is to say, 'He did it intentionally.' Let's think about this with the rational brain. We have 10 guys on the roster. We're starting this road trip now. We've dropped two games on this [four-game] road trip. Everybody's out. It's a close game. Why would I intentionally hit this kid in the face and get suspended and take our roster down to nine? It makes no sense."

(A quick aside...  is it really any wonder that people think of Kobe as arrogant and 'a punk'?  He refers to Jaric as 'this kid' when Marko is about 2 months younger then he.  Of course he referred to Raja Bell as a kid last year, and Raja is two years older.  By the way Kobe, 'this kid' blocked your shot just before you popped him.)

But back to the point, Stu Jackson never said it was intentional.

The way Kobe flailed his arms on both of these plays creates a dangerous situation.  The fact that he drew blood on both occasions only underscores that.  Let's face it - Kobe's own coach and others have tried to get Bruce Bowen in hot water for a much less aggressive practice of getting under shooters.  It's hard to argue that the occasional twisted ankle that results there is intentional.  You can't have it both ways.  If you want players punished for creating dangerous situations, you have to start with the guys who are consistently drawing blood.

Do I think Kobe is a dirty player?  No, not really.  But name another player who has landed five elbows (Mike Miller, Bell twice, Ginobili and Jaric) in the last 16 months.  (Those five are off the top of my head - there are undoubtedly more.)  Sure, we see a lot of Kobe on TV, but it seems like a lot.  

Kobe feels a sense of entitlement (that NBA refs exacerbate) as one of the faces of the game.  He feels that he is uniquely entitled to his space on the floor, that he is entitled to every call, and consequently, if you get up in his grill, he's going to create contact.  Is he trying to hurt people?  Not really.  Is he trying to hit people?  Absolutely, and he readily admits it.  "You try to draw contact.  You create a foul.  I was looking to draw some type of foul. What you do is try to draw something."  "Creating a foul" and "drawing contact" means hitting people.  Furthermore, the distinction between trying to draw contact by throwing your arm out to the side and intentionally throwing an elbow is pretty subtle.   I guess it's just a question of his aim.  By his own admission, he wanted to hit Jaric (draw contact) - I guess it's Marko's fault his face got in the way.

As a general rule, I like the idea of the NBA handing down fines and suspensions based on game reviews and I think it should be used more.  For instance, in the recent discussions of penalizing floppers, the concern was that it was too difficult for the officials to get the call right during the game.  Fair enough.  How about a system of fines and suspensions for flops after the fact?  I've argued for this type of approach in World Cup soccer (on my shortlived but wildly popular World Cup 2006 blog), where diving already threatens the integrity of the game.  The NBA isn't nearly that bad yet, but all the more reason to act now before it becomes a real problem.

Kobe deserved both of his suspensions, not because he intentionally elbowed his opponent, but because he unnecessarily created a dangerous situation on the court.  If the league consistently enforces this standard, it can only help the game.