Why Kobe will never truly be Jordan   

Updated: June 18, 2008, 12:41 PM ET

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Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player since Michael Jordan, and it's not a stretch to conclude that Kobe is better than the almighty. He certainly has talents Jordan didn't -- his perimeter shooting is far superior -- but there's always something nagging around the edges when it comes to giving the man a full-hearted endorsement.

It's really hard to give this guy the credit he deserves.

Which raises one of the most wide-ranging questions in sports:

What makes Kobe so polarizing?

Set aside, for the purposes of this discussion, the whole episode in Colorado. That lingers, no doubt, but this isn't a referendum on morality.

There are too many other aspects of his personality that always seem to turn up and create doubt. Typical was the way he kept talking about how much he was going to drink after the Game 4 loss, a low-rent move that reeked of the traditional Kobe conundrum: a huge desire to fit in, and an utter inability to understand what "fitting in" means.

With most guys, even Barry Bonds, the personality stuff could be ignored because it didn't seep onto the field or court.

But Kobe, to my way of thinking, is different. His idiosyncrasies extend onto the court. Perhaps the most troubling is his knack for exerting his superiority in the absolute wrong way.

Where Jordan showed his superiority by demanding the ball and taking over the game, Kobe has a tendency to disappear. And not only that, but there's a willful manner to his disappearances. They're intended to prove a point.

He's not being stopped by the opposition -- I'm not sure that's possible -- but it seems he's intentionally pulling back to emphasize how much better he is than anybody else on the court. This was never more in evidence than Sunday's Game 5, when he scored 15 points in the first quarter and then spent most of the next two quarters deferring to guys like Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar.

Because of so many moments like that, it's not always a shock when his teammates forget about him when he and he alone must have the ball. Take the sequence near the end of Game 2, with the Lakers within four after a big comeback. Vladimir Radmanovic ignored Kobe -- or simply forgot about him -- and the Lakers ended up with a Sasha Vujacic fadeaway as Kobe was coming off a pick wide open for a 3.

It was completely crazy, and completely understandable at the same time.


A new feature: This Week's Most Self-Important Man in Sports.

The inaugural winner: Steve Williams, Tiger's caddie.

It gets old watching this guy yell at everybody who dares make a sound around the tee box. No other caddie deems it necessary to be the High Sheriff of the Sound Police. And his act only got worse afterward, when the cameras caught him prancing around with the U.S. Open champions trophy before it had been given to Tiger.

This man is a caddie, remember? This is not a bad thing, but this man is not Tiger Woods. Does he ever look around at all those people who paid big money to stroll the course -- or all those cameras belonging to companies who paid big money to be there -- and realize he is there because of them, and not the other way around?

This Week's List

So, David Stern, a question: Do you want this series to go seven, or do you want it to go away peacefully and quietly after six?

Say this for Tim Donaghy: If he had to pick a game that might lead us to believe him -- even just a little -- Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals was the right one.

By the way, Phil: More shots for Sasha!

Good thing they fired him, because the Randolph Watch was about to go inning-to-inning: As Willie Randolph learned, day-to-day and headline-to-headline is a tough way to manage a 162-game season.

From first to worst: The National League West.

Why we care: Every once in a while, we get to root for a guy like Rocco.

Product placement, with a cute little cannibalistic twist: Tiger, drinking Tiger in between shots.

Best moment of the Open: Tiger extending his hand after it was over, and Rocco going straight for the hug.

Just for the heck of it: Mickey Morandini.

Kind of like waving a pork chop in front of a hungry dog: What self-respecting lawyer could turn down a sexual harassment/racial discrimination lawsuit against NASCAR?

Bad news, in threes: Jim McKay, Charlie Jones and Tim Russert.

I'm sure Charlie Jones did thousands of football games on television: But in my mind it's always Broncos-Chargers, and Dan Fouts is always avoiding Randy Gradishar as he looks downfield for Charlie Joiner.

And finally, Tim Donaghy's waiting for the World Series to drop the following bombshell: Dick Bavetta dogged it intentionally to let Charles Barkley win when they raced last year.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.


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