“Kobe is a Bandwagon Laker”
By Adam Lauridsen
Friday, May 9th, 2008 at 12:46 am in Fun Stuff.
Let me get this out of the way first: I don’t like Kobe Bryant. I am biased. I am a “hater.” I am just a bitter Warriors fan that’s upset because his team didn’t make the playoffs. Blah blah blah. Kobe apologists, hopefully this disclaimer will save you the trouble of writing these things over and over again in the comments below. I stole the title of this post from a comment on Tim Kawakami’s latest Kobe blog entry. To me, the phrase just about captures everything that needs to be said about Kobe’s ascendance to the League’s highest individual honor. Kobe finally has his Most Valuable Player trophy. Whether you’re cheering or jeering likely comes down to what you find valuable in the sport of basketball.
Last summer Kobe Bryant lost it. And by “it,” I mean the last chords of restraint holding back his lack of respect for his teammates and superiors in the Lakers organization. His public trashing of just about everyone involved with the Lakers has been well documented so there’s no need to recap here. The take away, however, was that Bryant felt a sense of entitlement to be surrounded by what he viewed to be the best possible players to help him win that instant, regardless of the havoc it would have wreaked on the future of the organization or the owner’s bank account. Odom, Bynum, draft picks - whatever it took was fine by Bryant so long as Jason Kidd or Jermaine O’Neal was brought to town immediately to help put to rest the 06-07 season’s timid conclusion in the playoff’s first round. Given the great job Kidd and O’Neal did leading their teams to playoff victory this year, Bryant fans should be adding “assistant GM” to the long list of areas in which he excels.
Shockingly, the season started without the Lakers or the rest of the NBA caving to Kobe’s demands. The salary cap was not rewritten to his specifications. He was forced to slum it out on the court with the teammates he had thrown under the bus, then backed over a few times, just months before. On February 3, 2008, the team held a 30-16 record. For those keeping score at home, the 65% win percentage would have been good enough — had they kept up the pace — for a 6th place finish in the West. 6th place would have meant another year of no home court advantage in the playoffs and, just like teams 5-8 in the West this year, likely would have signified another first round exit. Kobe would have had plenty of time to find new people to blame for the failure of the team on which he so badly wanted to be “the man.”
But then, like the insipid, contrived plot twists Hollywood always feels compelled to toss into their movies to produce happy endings, the rest of the NBA — or at least the Memphis Grizzlies — finally jumped to attention, just as Kobe had demanded a few months earlier. In what should go down as the great lopsided trade of a generation — one so bad it has been openly questioned by coaches and team officials around the NBA — Pau Gasol arrived in exchange for a late first round rookie, two picks likely to be even worse, and the tribute to the seductive force of “upside” that is Kwame Brown’s contract. Gasol made his debut on February 5 and the Lakers proceeded to close the season going 27-9.
Given this chronology, I have a few questions:
1. If the lead argument for Kobe’s MVP trophy is the dominance of his team, shouldn’t Gasol (or Memphis GM Chris Wallace) get the trophy? It was Gasol’s addition that raised the Lakers from likely first round fodder to the likely NBA Champions that they are today.
2. If the argument for Kobe’s MVP status rests on his individual performance, why shouldn’t LeBron, putting up better stats, finish ahead of him? Why not Paul, close behind in a few categories but far ahead in others, be viewed as similarly dominant on an individual level?
3. If the reason for Kobe edging LeBron is Kobe’s supposed “intangibles” — his intensity, his clutch play, his toughness — where did all these qualities get him before Gasol arrived? As top dog in LA, Kobe had failed every big test and distinguished himself most in displays of public indignity. His individual performance wasn’t good enough to win him the award in prior years. Why is it good enough now?
I’m not arguing that Kobe isn’t a fantastic player. I’d be blind to deny that he is among the best ever to set foot on a court. Whether he’s deserving of the MVP trophy, however, comes down to what you value in a basketball player. If you want someone who turns the players on a team into a whole greater than its parts, Kobe doesn’t get your vote. If you want someone who was good enough on their own to carry their team to playoff glory, Kobe doesn’t get your vote. If you want someone, however, who considers himself above his teammates and bigger than his franchise, Kobe is your guy. If you want someone who views those around him only in terms of how they can serve his personal goals, check the “Kobe” box on your ballot. MVP is an individual honor, and no one in the NBA personifies the individual above the team or the sport more than Kobe Bryant. In that sense, they couldn’t have given the award to a better guy.