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Tuesday, November 4, 2003
Updated: November 5, 12:18 PM ET
Selfish Kobe should just go away

By Mike Greenberg
Special to Page 2

Is it me, or has Kobe Bryant completely lost his mind?

At this point, the damage he is doing to his image is so great that no lawyer will be able to defend him in the court of public opinion. Johnny Cochran would have to find a rhyme for "megalomaniacal." Clarence Darrow would consider him a lost cause.

Listen, I don't know what happened in that hotel room any more than you do. Frankly, I don't expect we will ever find out. I have absolutely zero confidence in the American criminal-justice system when the defendant is a celebrity. I think it highly possible that Kobe could be innocent and found guilty, or vice-versa.

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But whatever it is he did or didn't do, the result has been unprecedented stress placed on every member of the Lakers organization, if not the entire NBA. (LeBron James, an 18-year-old kid with a lot of other things on his mind, had to answer questions about Kobe's case this summer, for crying out loud.) Yet Kobe seems oblivious. He's behaving like a man who has been wronged, but it isn't the Lakers or the league that wronged him.

This is the league that made his father a wealthy man, that allowed Kobe to grow up on the Main Line in Philadelphia, and it made Kobe one of the world's most beloved individuals. Now it has suffered perhaps it's greatest public relations hit ever. And still Kobe acts as though he lives in a vacuum, a place where everyone holds news conferences to profess their love to their wives, a place where diamonds are measured in pounds instead of carats.

He just doesn't get it, and that is the biggest disappointment. All this time, we thought if there was any athlete who got it, it was Kobe.

What he needs to do is walk away, exit stage left, disappear into thin air to whatever degree that is possible, until all this blows over. When it does, and only then, should he once again don the Lakers' purple-and-gold -- assuming his daily attire isn't an orange jump suit.

I know what you're thinking.

"Greeny, you're an idiot! The Lakers are off to a great start!"

I can't argue either point, but I can tell you that the Lakers' record is irrelevant. This team could win 75 games and it wouldn't mean a thing. Karl Malone and Gary Payton didn't come to L.A. to run a marathon; all they care about is the finishing sprint. Phil Jackson himself said, "It don't mean a thing if you don't get that ring," when his Bulls won a record 72 games. At this stage of his life, you know Phil doesn't get excited about anything that happens before spring.

This whole thing is about May and June. Who knows where Kobe will be then, literally or figuratively? Maybe he'll be in jail. Maybe he'll be in court. Maybe he'll be curled up in a dark room, staring deeply into his own soul, in the emotional equivalent of the fetal position. Who could blame him if he was? If he's about to stand trial for rape, he will have matters of far greater import on his mind than basketball. And that's the whole point.

If the Lakers learned anything from their disappointing season of 2002-2003, it is that there is no light switch that can be turned on and off when it comes to dedication and unselfishness. No matter how long and arduous the path to a title may seem, it is neccessary to observe and respect every step of it -- whether that step is being taken in the playoffs or in November. Shaquille O'Neal let his team down a year ago by not dedicating himself fully. (Kobe said as much in his shocking interview with Jim Gray.) That was inexcusable. Shaq is a highly-paid superstar; the least that should be expected from him is maximum effort. But from Kobe, right now, that expectation is unrealistic.

If things go his way in court, he should then be welcomed back on the court immediately. If it happens this season, great. If not, worse things have happened than a player missing one season in the middle of what should be a long and brilliant career. And, for what it's worth, the Lakers can still win the whole thing without him.

Everything Kobe says and does these days gives the impression he is playing for himself. That's not the way to win a title. This isn't about what is best for Kobe; it's about what is best for the Lakers and the league. And what is best for both of them right now is for Kobe to go away.

Mike Greenberg co-hosts ESPN Radio's Morning Show with Mike Golic and frequently anchors SportsCenter.