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:: Thursday, January 26, 2006 ::

:: The Greatest of All Time? ::
Not many of you may know that I'm also a basketball fan. Or more accurately, I'm a Los Angeles Lakers fan. It's distinct notch or two below my fanaticism for my SanFran 49ers and my Los Angeles Dodgers and maybe even below the Kings (hockey) but it's definitely more interesting than, say, soccer (it's so cute how them foreigners try to call it "football").

So back in December, when Kobe Bryant dropped 62 points - in only three quarters - on the Mavericks (who combined for only 61) and sat out the third quarter, I felt an odd combination of both pride and melancholy. Pride for the fact that one my boys not only put on one of the greatest scoring spectacles of all time, but in an unusual display of sportsmanship, sat out the final quarter so as to not show up the other team.

But the melancholy came from how that game might have been remembered. I didn't realize until I left L.A. just how vehement some of the animosity towards Kobe and the Lakers is, and I just knew that there would be people out there who would criticize his decision to sit out the fourth. Not that I cared in any way, but I wondered if he lost out on his chance to really punch his critics in the mouth by making history. There were many half-hearted compliments but quite a bit of rhetoric about how he lacked Michael Jordan's "killer instinct" or some petty horseshit about how he disrespected the other team by sitting out. I don't care about what the Lakers Haters would say to me when I'm the only one rooting for them in a sports bar; I just wanted Kobe to silence his critics for no other reason than that he can.

And as if he read my mind, he goes and spanks the Raptors for 81 points.

And single-handedly willing his team to a victory on a night they started off getting killed.

My kid brother, who's devoted to basketball and the Lakers the way I'm loyal to my 49ers and Dodgers, who loves Kobe the way I worship Bono, wrote this on his blog:

MJ himself once said that it was harder for a guard to pursue Wilt's record because of the nature of the game. MJ topped out at 69, and he needed an OT to do it. This was the single greatest scoring achievement in the history of the NBA. Forget Wilt and his inflated numbers in a league where none could match his size and strength. Kobe dropped 81 points on a team that tried every defensive tactic in the book with the game on the line. He brought them back from an 18 point deficit to get the W. And he scored 55 in the second half. The second half!!! Making a run at 100 very possible.

Where are all the haters now?

The key difference between Jordan and Kobe is that Jordan wanted both the respect that comes with being one of the best as well as the love and adoration from people outside his fan base. Right now, Kobe doesn't want respect from his critics. He wants them trampled and humiliated. He may appreciate his fans but anyone and anything else is nonexistent. He just realized that even a sincere display of sportsmanship won't placate his critics so now he's welcoming any and all hatred and using it.

One of the things that great athletes do is focus their intensity on opposition - be it the other team, a bitter sports writer, or even something fabricated - to get themselves pissed off and take that anger out on that opponent. Jordan always did this but Kobe is taking it to scary new levels. And there's really nothing to fabricate. He believes that the sports world is collectively yearning for his downfall. He's become the most hated/selfish/overrated/showboating athlete in the NBA. It's become him vs. The World.

He's not playing a sport. He's engaged in combat.

He's not just an athlete playing for a win. He's a gladiator fighting to see another sunrise.

He's not just playing against another team. He's fighting every self-satisfied sport columnist. Every ignorant fan. Every jealous player, every personal demon, and every shortsighted coach.

And most importantly - I may be the only one who thinks this - he's fighting the stigma created by the management of his own team. Jerry Buss knows that the team he has now won't win a championship. Buss knows that even the Zen coach Phil Jackson can't bring home a title. Even Phil admitted the current roster is a long way from even going to the playoffs, and he doesn't put up much of an arguement to people who say he only came back for the paycheck. As cynical as this may seem, my Lakers are built strictly for the purpose of showcasing the NBA's most gifted player. Kobe, a very intelligent person, knows this. And it makes him livid. Whatever else you want to think about him, Kobe wants to win. But instead of sulking or whining to the media the way lesser players would, he simply embraces that anger. His mindset is that of begrudging acceptance. "If all this is about is showing me off, then you haven't seen anything yet. If this isn't about getting the team a Ring, I'm gonna make this all about me and break a few records while I'm at it."

If Kobe is addicted to scoring, than the Lakers management are his enablers.

Kobe said he would have been "sick to his stomach" if they lost that game to the Raptors. I almost wish they had. One can only imagine the level of hatred he would have left on the court for the next game. Who knows, he still might. And he may break Wilt Chamberlin's 100 while he's at it.

:: Miscellaneous Ramblings by Dan-E at 12:03 PM [+] :: | 0 comments

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