(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
As I sat in front of my laptop Wednesday night trying to come up with a column, I kept coming back to my favorite target. Mr. Kobe Bryant.
I tried to avoid it. I was going to write about Eli Manning and why it’s important for the Giants to give him playing time now, even if it means sacrificing a playoff berth.
I was going to write about Sean Banks, the troubled young star for the Memphis Tigers who was suspended indefinitely by Coach John Calipari for breaking several team rules. Word is that Banks is a ball hog who can’t get along with freshman guard Darius Washington Jr. At least Cal isn’t afraid to shake things up. Goodness knows he needs to in wake of the Tigers disastrous 5-4 start.
I was even thinking of writing about the WNBA, and how they are committed to various charities this holiday season, or the departure of Pedro Martinez from the Boston Red Sox.
I was tossing these ideas around when one of my favorite shows came on and diverted my attention. The show is PTI with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. It airs on ESPN and features the two sports writers offering their unique opinions on various stories from the sporting world.
I was hoping for inspiration and boy did I get it.
The first segment of the show normally features Wilbon and Kornheiser giving their takes on headlines in a rapid fire give and take. Wednesday’s first segment featured an interview with Kobe, who was there to answer questions about the pool of controversy he continually swims in.
The hosts first asked him about the allegations that Karl Malone was flirting with his wife, and why it was being played out in the public spotlight.
KoKo feigned ignorance as to why it hit the media in the first place. He said that he had kept his mouth shut when reporters initially asked him about the personal problems between him and the Mailman.
Wilbon then said that people have gotten that idea because Kobe responded to it during a television interview, but Bryant said that at that time it had already been made public.
He said this with a straight face.
The first report I read of the incident featured Kobe’s agent giving a dissertation on exactly what was said, who said it and when it was said. Now, I might be ignorant to the ins and outs of a player-agent relationship, but I’m confident that the agent didn’t knock over the jellybeans without Kobe wanting them spilled.
Bryant was then asked about his feud with Shaq and if he felt he had broken a ‘code’ between NBA players when he gave up the Diesel’s hush money secrets to the police in Colorado.
He was also asked and then denied having anything to do with the Daddy being forced out of L.A., saying he wasn’t even sure if he was going to re-sign with the Lakers last summer. The most telling response was when he was asked if he wished Shaq were still playing in Los Angeles. Bryant replied with, “sometimes”.
Sometimes. If he really didn’t have anything to do with Shaq being traded, and still wanted to be his teammate, sometimes is an awfully peculiar answer. The answer should have been a resounding “YES!”.
He went on by saying he regretted Shaq’s name coming up in the rape investigation, that he never intended any harm and that it “was blown out of proportion”. If he never intended any ill-will towards Shaq, then why even say his name to the police?
Kobe was understandably scared and in a state of shock during his questioning in Colorado. But his ratting out of the Daddy sounds to me like a little kid in the principal’s office, trying to avoid trouble by snitching on one of his friends guilty of the same offense.
I really don’t have a vendetta against Bryant. True, I’m sick of the Jordan comparisons and they are totally without merit, but Kobe was heralded as one of the next saviors of the game. A strong shouldered superstar set to carry the NBA to its next generation of fans.
But the chinks in his armor are rapidly showing the soft underbelly of an emotionally underdeveloped, self-centered, spoiled kid. He has taken to calling his new teammates, “my guys” and saying things like “they are playing well for me”. I bet Lamar Odom loves that.
Kobe kept saying that playing without Shaq is just another challenge in his life he is ready to meet. So far this season, he is meeting that challenge with 39-percent shooting (including 31-percent from the 3-point line) and averaging 4.5 turnovers a game, while leading the Lakers to an outstanding 12-9 record. For the sake of the NBA, and Kobe, I hope he can get his head on straight and be the player and leader that everyone thought he could be upon entering the league.
For now, I’ll put this column to bed and hope I won’t have to write about him any more this season.
Or at least until the Christmas showdown between the Heat and the Lakers.