Thursday, May 04, 2006

Something Strange in the Air

The combination of the ending of last night's episode of "Lost" and the utter refusal of the Wizards to play defense, even in the last seconds of OT, have left me in a state of shock this morning. I mean, how do you kill off two of the biggest stars of a smash hit television show, and how do you let one of the two best players in basketball beat you with a layup? These are questions I simply can't answer. One question I can answer, however, is who is my favorite NBA player? Go ahead and brace yourself, because the answer is going to shock you. I can't believe I even think this much less that I'm going to put it in print for other people to see, but my undisputed favorite NBA player has become the The Black Mamba himself...Kobe Bryant.

Look, nobody is more shocked than me. In fact, I'm angry at myself, but I just can't fight it. The guy is fascinating, and his game is without peer. Not to mention, this guy is the greatest competitor on the hard wood since.....well....I can't bring myself to admit that. I've come a long way, but not that far. Why, after years of unabashed hatred, do I now love watching Kobe? Well, here's a few reasons:

1) The 81 point game. C'mon. How could you not love this? If you are a fan of a sport, and something happens in that sport that has never happened before, you HAVE to be excited about it.

2) He willed an average team to the playoffs. The Lakers don't win 20 games without Kobe. Over 82 games, he showed up every night, and he did what had to be done to get his team in the post season. Did this mean that he took what we often consider too many shots, and that he probably pushed his teammates to homicidal thoughts at times? Of course. But, ultimately, he was taking the path of least resistance to get his team to the next level. Sure, he could have tried to operate in the framework of the triangle offense and deferred to guys like Odom and Brown. But, there was no guarantee things would come together in time for the Lakers to make the playoffs. So, instead, he took it upon himself to get them there. He took most of the shots, but he also took all of the burden. If they failed, he would have been skewered by every basketball writer, broadcaster, and fan in America. He was willing to take on that responsibility. That's onions you just don't see every day.

3) Now that the he got them to the postseason, he recognizes that it can't be a one man show anymore. He is deferring to teammates in these crucial games, and his willingness to do so is instilling confidence in guys that really have no reason to be confident. Hey, Luke Walton, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown are all averaging double digits and playing the best basketball of their natural born lives. Not to mention that Lamar Odom appears more interested in basketball than, well, other recreational activities. This isn't an accident. Kobe knows he needs them, and he's made an effort to include them. He's carried them to the base of the mountain, but he knows that the only way they can all climb to the top of the mountain is to work together. That kind of recognition is rare. The ability to act on that recognition is even rarer.

4) Game 4 of this series took Kobe to a whole other level in my mind. He's always been great, but now he's joined the likes of the legendary assassins like Jordan and Reggie Miller. In other words, if he has the ball in his hands with a big game on the line, you better not blink or you are going to miss something special. Did you for one minute even consider the possibility that Kobe would miss that shot? Of course you didn't.

5) Finally, his transcendently funny punking of Raja Bell yesterday put him over the top with me. Anybody that can call a man two years older than him a "kid" with a straight face is Aces in my book. It's not good enough for him to own a guy on the court, but he must own him off the court as well. In other words, he has complete dominance over Raja Bell. If this were prison...well...you get the picture.

So, there it is. I'm out of the closet. I am now a huge Kobe Bryant fan. And yes, I just might go out and buy a Mamba jersey.