Kobe Bryant is gone from the NBA playoffs, but he remains the most riveting and controversial figure of the postseason. Even his absence fills the room.
Bryant solidified his position as the most polarizing player in the NBA with a wildly inconsistent and confounding series against the Suns. There he is, passing and moving without the ball and generally playing like Steve Nash. There he is, putting up 50 because his team needs it. There he is, petulantly putting up three shots in the second half of the seventh game, just to prove a point about the inadequacies of his teammates.
And to think, the seventh-game disappearance came just as everyone was ready to attach a new description -- team player -- on him.
Say what you want, but he's the only guy who could have pulled that one off.
How's this for redirecting responsibility: You can make a good case that 90 percent of Kobe's problems stem from the lingering, and bizarre, national fixation with Michael Jordan. Kobe is part of the fixation; he's groomed himself to be the successor to the point of imitating Jordan's mannerisms.
And that, more than anything, is why every game featuring Kobe comes across not as a basketball game but as "Kobe on Kobe."
He's been trying so hard to be someone else -- or someone else's version of who he should be -- that he isn't really anybody. From the outside, his words seem hollow and his actions seem borrowed.
When he got clotheslined by Raja Bell, he couldn't simply go to the line and make his free throws. He had to perform a little dust-off on his jersey and a finger-wag to let everyone know the attack was mere lint on a great man's lapel. It was so obviously staged you could almost see the gears turning. OK, I have to do something here
It's probably crazy to call Kobe's act sad, but it comes off that way. His abilities should be able to stand alone. He's a better pure scorer -- a shotmaker, if that's a word -- than Jordan ever was, and I'd make that case to anybody willing to listen.
The problem is, he's not satisfied with that. He keeps trying to summon the charisma and integrity he doesn't possess, and the result is a guy who can't get out of his own way. He keeps trying to transcend the sport, when he should be content to dominate it.
This Week's List
• This could be really good: Carlos Zambrano vs. Barry Bonds.
• Something even a hockey ignoramus can appreciate: The San Jose Sharks, already facing a 5-on-3 disadvantage, had two of their three players lose their sticks on the ice and still held the Oilers without a goal.
• Perhaps the most uninspiring arena name in a world filled with them: Rexall Place, Edmonton.
• Then again: Pepsi Center.
• The kind of analysis you can only get here: The Clippers have no chance unless they figure out how to hold the Suns under 130.
• Well, if that ain't full circle: This week's Nation magazine, in one of the many Barry vs. Babe comparisons leaking in from outside the sports world, cites a section of a book titled "The Baseball Hall of Shame's Warped Record Book" stating that Ruth once fell ill after "attempting to inject himself with extract from a sheep's testes."