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Friday, November 15, 2002
Why all the fuss?

By Charley Rosen
Special to Page 2

I've been surprised and somewhat amused at all the hoopla resulting from my calling Kobe Bryant to task for his habitually selfish play. My opinions belong to me, but in this case, they were also supported by several members of the Lakers' organization. (It should be noted, however, that besides Tex Winter, no other member of the coaching staff chastised Kobe in my presence.) Moreover, several other NBA coaches and assistants -- plus assorted current and future Hall of Famers -- continue to confirm my testimony that Kobe's self-serving propensities are indeed gospel.

Even so, several sportswriters have gone to great lengths to try to prove that Emperor Kobe does indeed have new clothes, in particular, a certain scribe for a New York tabloid who says Kobe was in fact a disciplined player in his pre-Jacksonian season with the Lakers. He cites as proof the young man's limited playing time and scoring output from 1996-99. However, a player can be just as selfish in 10 minutes of court time as he can in 40 minutes -- he can likewise score seven points or 30 points with a me-first-last-and-always attitude.

And how long did it take, on May 12, 1997, for rookie Kobe to uncork three unconscionable airballs at critical junctures during the Lakers' final (and losing) playoff game against Utah? In any discussion of athletic attitude when it comes to team sports, numbers are usually specious evidence.

It was also stated that, under the direction of Del Harris, the Lakers' offense during Kobe's rookiehood was "disciplined." But how disciplined can any offense be with Nick Van Exel controlling the ball?

Also, Harris happens to be a wonderful human being and, in his prime, a terrific coach. But by the time he took over the Lakers, the league's population had become much younger, richer, and more self-absorbed. In this brave new world, Harris had considerable trouble controlling his players.

Kobe Bryant
With more court time, Kobe Bryant's game and selfishness have flourished.
Actually, there was very little discipline in the Lakers' offense during Harris' tenure in Los Angeles. In fact, the players routinely decided much of what transpired during the team's practice sessions.

This same scribe also charged me with anticipating Latrell Sprewell by several years and "choking" a rival CBA coach, George Whittaker. The truth here is that I never laid a glove on him.

I was coaching the Rockford Lightning at the time and the coach of the Rapid City Thrillers, Eric Musselman (currently at the helm of the Golden State Warriors), called to complain about Whittaker's end-game tactics. "We were playing at Cedar Rapids," said Musselman, "and Whittaker was ahead by 24 with about a minute left in the game, when he ordered his team into a full-court press. It was like he was kicking us when we were down and out. My guys felt totally humiliated, and I had to stop a couple of them from busting Whittaker's butt."

At that time, I was one of the CBA's most senior coaches, so Eric asked me to speak to Whittaker and explain the error of his ways.

No problem.

But, when I got to Cedar Rapids, Whittaker denied all charges. "I don't even have a full-court press," he insisted. "And even if I did, Charley, I would never do anything as disrespectful as that."

OK. Fine. Thanks, George. You're a helluva guy.

Come game time, and my team never got untracked. Then, lo and behold, we were down 112-79 and there was 1:17 left in the game, when I heard Whittaker shout out, "Red! Red!", and his team commenced to press us full-court.

When I loudly voiced my displeasure, Whittaker cursed me and said, "Come over here and do something about it."

Del Harris
No matter how hard he tried, Del Harris couldn't get all the Lakers to follow his disciplined system.
So, like a fool, I did.

After much more hullabaloo, I chanced to encounter Whittaker after the game outside the locker rooms and took a weak swing at him, missing his face by a foot.

Things got even crazier from there -- a panicky cop reaching for his gun, a squad of cops beating me with their nightsticks, my arrest, and my players chipping in $400 to bail me out.

When I rejoined my team on the bus, my guys applauded and hooted and treated me like a hero.

Years later, a member of that team explained my joyous reception. Elston Turner is currently an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, and he said this: "What that whole business was all about, Charley, was that you went out on a limb to stick up for us. We all knew it, and we all dug it."

Hey, I've made plenty of boneheaded plays in my life, so there's no need to charge me with any imaginary ones.

Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."