(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.)
After sitting through three horrible Memphis losses last week (the Tigers got creamed in the GMAC bowl, the Grizzlies lost a game to the Golden State Warriors in which they had a 10-point lead, and the Tigers hoops team continued their trend of getting dismantled in a loss to Providence), I was ready for the present that Santa Stern left under the tree Christmas morning.
I was eagerly anticipating the showdown between Shaq and Kobe – or the “Brick Wall and the Corvette”, as the Diesel so eloquently put it – after an endless summer and fall of unrelenting hype.
Even though the Pacers and Pistons were in a grudge match on ESPN, I quickly turned to ABC when the clock struck 2 p.m. The Detroit-Indiana game was your typical competitive NBA contest, but the teams didn’t have the same fire that they had in the infamous brawl game.
It was almost like watching two castrated bulls that used to have great battles, but now they just wanted to get it over with so they could watch the Daddy versus Koko like everyone else on the planet.
ABC began their telecast with more hype. Oops, I almost forgot, they actually began with Destiny’s Child singing their latest single, ‘Lose My Breath’. What that had to do with the basketball game I have no idea.
Whey they did begin in earnest, they recapped every moment of the feud, going all the way back to when Kobe uttered his first words, “I want the ball”. I’m pretty sure that everyone tuning into the game was more familiar with how the two grew apart, than the origins of jolly old Saint Nick.
When they finally got to the game, we were treated to the P.A. guy announcing the starting line-ups. After Shaq’s name was announced, he received a partial standing ovation for almost 40 seconds, and the camera cut to Kobe who was pseudo-sincerely clapping in appreciation like the rest of the Staples crowd.
The teams came onto the court to shake hands before tip-off, and the Diesel barely looked at his former protege. You could tell from the start that the Daddy was all about business, while Kobe had the air of ‘Hey I’m just out here trying to win a game by showing that I can carry this team better than you, and I’m going to look pretty doing it’.
Bryant began the game by driving right into the lane to show everyone that he wasn’t going to be intimidated. Shaq responded by blocking his first shot. This began a trend that would last the whole game, Shaq conceding no layups or dunks, and Bryant intent on getting one.
Kobe did hit four 3-pointers on his way to 15 points in the first quarter, but the Heat led by one at the end of the period.
Was it just me, or were there more commercials than in any other sporting event I have ever watched? In between checking on how the battle for Bikini Bottom was going with my son and his new PlayStation 2, I was trying not to doze off during all the ads.
One commercial that got my attention however was the trailer for the new movie Assault on Precinct 13. I say new, but it’s a remake of a movie that was made in the ‘70s. Why do we need a remake of that movie? Is the well of ideas in Hollywood so dry that they have to continually do covers of old movies? Is Ethan Hawke ever going to play a role where he isn’t a police officer in some kind of peril again? Is this his penance for cheating on Uma Thurman?
After coming back from commercial, ABC airs a video montage of Shaq and Kobe together with the song ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ playing along.
The montage made it look like they were Abbott and Costello, or B.J. and the Bear or something.
As far as the game went, it was a tight contest that went down to the wire. After a brilliant first half, Kobe started to try and shoot the Lakers out of it in the second half. When he wasn’t jacking up ill-advised shots, he was throwing no-look passes to Jack Nicholson in the front row.
Bryant forced Shaq into his sixth foul with 2:15 to go in the game. Kobe tied the game at 91, but then failed to score again as Shaq’s team rose to the occasion, while Bryant’s guys didn’t know how to win without him taking every shot.
Lamar Odom played pretty well down the stretch, but it was Koko who missed the 3-pointer at the end of the game. Bryant did score 40, but he had 9 turnovers.
The Diesel had one of his atypical games, but the most telling evidence was how the rest of the Heat didn’t fizzle out after Shaq-Fu left the game.
The real question to me is: Would Kobe have sacrificed half of his points for a Laker win? Would he have been content on scoring under 20 points if it meant beating his former big brother?
My guess is no. The Heat continue to play like one of the best teams in the league, while the Lakers look like a summer league rec team with one guy that likes to shoot all the time.
There will be one more game played between the two teams, barring the unlikely possibility that they will meet in the Finals.
Shaq looks like the real winner in all of this mess, while Kobe continues to look like the lonesome loser, intent on cementing his reputation as the best selfish player of all-time.