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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Kobe Bryant Unplugged

Kobe Bryant returned to action on Friday night, producing 23 points, six assists and four rebounds in a 118-112 Los Angeles Lakers win over the Seattle SuperSonics. The Lakers are now 3-0 after winning their first two games without Bryant as he completed his recovery from offseason knee surgery. It's early, but the Lakers could surprise a lot of people this year--at least those who didn't read my Western Conference Preview, in which I predicted that the Lakers will finish fourth in the conference.

Recently, Fox Sports aired an interview that Chris Myers did with Bryant. Here are some choice excerpts:

>>>Asked his thoughts about last season, Bryant replied: "It was a great season for us. Being a young team, no one expected us to be in the playoffs, let alone make some noise in the playoffs.*"

>>>Bryant shared his thoughts about his relationship with Phil Jackson: "Our relationship is beyond great." Bryant added, "The relationship that we've always had when it came to the game is we knew what we had to do to get the job done, period. Now that relationship has gone beyond just the strategies and schematics of the game of basketball--it's a deeper respect that goes beyond our profession." Jackson wrote some negative things about Bryant in his book The Last Season but Bryant insists that all is forgiven and forgotten: "I didn't need an apology from him--coming back to the Lakers was enough."

Myers asked if it is necessary for a player to like his coach. Bryant answered, "No, I don't think that you necessarily have to like the coach...the relationship that we had previous to him coming back was rocky but we still won three championships. Now our relationship is great, so we look forward to making even more noise."

>>>Bryant said that he neither roots for nor against Shaquille O'Neal because he is focused on what the Lakers are doing. He is not surprised by what the Heat accomplished because Pat Riley put an excellent team together and then the emergence of Dwyane Wade created a powerful duo with Shaq.

>>>Myers asked Bryant if he thought that he should have finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Bryant said, "I never thought about being an MVP. Coming into the season, I didn't even think about it. The two things that I wanted to accomplish--these were goals of mine--were to improve as a team and to get back to the First Team All-Defense. Those were the things I really focused on. The MVP stuff doesn't mean anything to me. At the end of the day, it's all about championships."

>>>Bryant told Myers that he has always been sociable but that the dynamics of the team were different when he came into the league because he was so much younger than his teammates. Now, he is the "big brother" based on "mileage" but the age difference is not that great. He added that by the time LeBron James came into the league straight out of high school "the playing field had levelled," meaning that the league itself had gotten so much younger that there was not the same generation gap between James and his teammates that there had been between Bryant and his teammates in Bryant's early seasons. Bryant has mixed feelings about the rule that prevents players from jumping straight from high school to the NBA, citing the success that he James, McGrady and others have enjoyed but also acknowledging that many players failed miserably when they tried to make the jump.

>>>Bryant does not believe that it will be possible for someone to duplicate Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game but cannot rule it out, either. He said that, while he may make scoring look easy, such a feat would be "very difficult" and that a lot of things have to come together at once to produce such a performance. Bryant added that during his 81 point game everything seemed to slow down and he felt like he could see what would happen in advance. Bryant said that he sometimes has a feeling before a game that he could score a lot of points but that he tries to restrain that thought because "if you embrace that feeling too quickly, by the time game time rolls around it's gone."

>>>Myers noted that Bryant was criticized for not scoring more against Dallas (the game when he outscored the Mavericks 62-61 for three quarters and then sat out the fourth) and for scoring too much in his 81 point game versus Toronto. Myers asked Bryant what he thinks about that and Bryant replied, "I just do whatever is required, whatever is necessary." That is similar to the response that Bryant gave to me when I posed that question to him during the 2006 All-Star Weekend: "The object is always to win, so whatever that means for me to do is what I’m going to do.”

>>>Bryant talked about his renowned work ethic: "I'm seeking to improve my level of play. I'm constantly asking questions about the game, trying to learn the game more."

>>>Bryant said, "Winning is the ultimate goal" and "The thing that I'm afraid of is not winning another championship. That really drives me."

>>>After he came to the United States from Italy, Bryant felt that other kids viewed him as soft and he used that as motivation to earn their respect.

>>>Bryant described some of his philanthropic endeavors, including working with the East L.A. Boys and Girls Club and the United Negro College Fund. He is providing the funding for a number of college scholarship winners to travel to Italy; he feels that growing up overseas broadened his horizons and opened his mind to many possibilities and he wants others to have a chance to experience such things. He said, "I've had a pretty good career, but I want to feel like my life has had more purpose besides putting a ball in the basket."

>>>His choice for most enjoyable teammate? A tie between Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler.

*--This is not entirely true: Before the 2005-06 season began, I wrote that the Lakers would win at least 45 games and make the playoffs.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:49 PM



At Sunday, November 05, 2006 9:45:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Your season love affair with Bryant begins.

At Monday, November 06, 2006 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I think that this will be a very interesting season for Kobe and the Lakers. I posted Kobe's quotes without adding any of my own comments for now, just to give people an opportunity to digest what he said and form their own judgements.

Myers is a good interviewer and I used to enjoy watching "Up Close" when he hosted it on ESPN.

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006 8:50:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Up Close was a good show.
Bryant does look like he is hurting a bit, but thats natural after knee surgery. We will see what happens.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 5:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kobe shot 5-7 from the field and 7-7 from the free throw line, scoring 17 points and dishing a team-high 6 assists in another Lakers' win on Tuesday. Bynum put up 20 and 14, both career highs. Kobe-Odom-Bynum could be a pretty strong trio down the line when Kobe gets back to being 100%.

I've never figured out why some guys get credit for playing hurt while others are supposedly damaging their teams. If Kobe cared as much about his scoring average as his critics assert, wouldn't he either sit out until he was 100% or else force up a lot of shots in order to boost his ppg?

Willis Reed is justly praised for limping on to the court for game seven in the 1970 Finals but everyone seems to have forgotten that Wilt had suffered a devastating knee injury earlier that year and was making his own heroic comeback.

I know Alternaviews is going to get on me for bringing up TO's name here again but my point has more to do with inconsistencies in sports media coverage in general than with football or TO. SportsCenter did this whole feature--with the seriousness of someone going over the Zapruder film frame by frame--discussing why TO has dropped six passes this year and how much this hurts his team. Not once in the discussion was it mentioned that TO is playing with a broken finger. Doesn't that seem to be relevant information? He has caught 44 passes for 558 yards and six TDs in eight games, tying for 10th in the league in receptions and tying for third in receiving TDs, one TD behind the co-leaders--so it's not like the guy isn't making plays. The injury was supposed to cause him to miss two to four games but he didn't even sit out one. If the media liked him then he would be portrayed as some kind of hero for playing with this injury. Instead, all we hear about are his drops, with no mention of his positive statistics or the fact that he is playing hurt. Then I do some research and find out that the Philadelphia Eagles' current receiving corps has dropped more passes than any team in the league. Bryant Westbrook has dropped six and Reggie Brown has dropped seven. Neither has as many receptions as TO or, as far as I know, is playing with a broken finger. The Eagles have the same record as the Cowboys but haven't won a game since beating Dallas. I wonder if winning that one game in Philly will turn out to be the highlight of their season.

Bringing all of this back around to Kobe, it would be nice to see a story about how well Kobe is mentoring his young teammates and blending his skills with them as the Lakers get off to a good start--but I suspect that the only way I will see THAT story is if I write it myself.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 2:00:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Ah you and Bryant. Your boy Bryant will start his scoring soon.

But Owens has a history of dropping passes. So what hes injured. When he scores he makes a big deal out of it. Its not like he's not catching any passes. The ones he drops are so important in the course of the game. The Giants 4th and 2, and the one on Sunday that could have given them a 26-12 lead. If hes hurt, he needs to sit down.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 9:14:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Good point about double standards when it comes to injuries. I think the line should be drawn as follows: "Is Player X with injury Y still better than his replacement?"

Guys like Kobe, TO and Chamberlain get criticized when trying to play with injuries because they are "villians".

Good point about Wilt Chamberlain and the 1970 Finals. Nowadays, people like to depict Game 7 of that series in an overly-dramatic, fairly tale way, where poor Willis Reed limped on to the court and the arrogant, seemingly invincible giant Chamberlain was intimidated and cowered in fear as his team folded. In reality, Wilt couldn't do many things that he would normally have been able to if he was 100% healthy (in particular, his mobility was limited), but his performance was still solid. There's just not much he could do when Frazier, DeBusschere, etc. were raining in jumpers from the perimeter all night. There's no way the Lakers would have made it that far if Wilt didn't return. However, that doesn't make for a good story.

Chamberlain is criticized as "soft" and a "quitter" for having taken himself out of Game 7 of the 1969 Finals late in the 4th quarter. I imagine if he stayed in the game while being able to hardly move for a while, he would have been cast as "selfish" and "hurting his team".

At Thursday, November 09, 2006 2:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You hit the nail on the head when you summarized the issue thusly: "Is Player X with injury Y still better than his replacement?" Returning to TO for a moment, that is why I brought up his stats--despite the drops, he ranks among the league leaders in several categories. Yes, it hurt the team that he dropped some balls but if he sat out until he was completely healthy then the team would be even worse off, because there is no one on Dallas' bench who could put up his numbers; plus, Owens receives a lot of double teams, opening things up for Glenn and Witten.

Meanwhile, good old "Ocho Cinco" in Cincinnati has been, as one clever sign said, "Oucho Stinko" this year, but for some reason the media loves him, so he gets a pass for his antics AND his lack of production. At least Bob Holtzman's SportsCenter report did mention, as an afterthought, that despite "Ocho's" complaints he has been thrown the same number of balls this year as last year but has simply caught fewer of them for less yards.

I'm not trying to make excuses for TO and, more importantly, he is not making excuses, either; he flat out said that he owes the team one. My criticism is of so-called experts who "analyze" his drops without even mentioning the injury; that is just bad journalism and bad analysis.

The Lakers lost to Portland tonight despite Kobe's 32 points. I wonder how long it will be before we get the deluge of stories about how he is shooting too much and hurting the team--ignoring the "inconvenient" fact that the Lakers went 18-9 last year when he scored 40-plus points. I didn't see the game but if they lost to Portland with him scoring 32 I'm more inclined to think that they needed 42 from him than 22.


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