|ESPN.com: Page 2||[Print without images]|
Standing on an indoor court in late August, the normally ice-cold Lakers assassin is well past the point of cocksure half-smiles and winks and popped collars. Forget that junk. It won't work here. Bryant has already cast his purple-and-gold polo aside. Now he's in a gray tank top and on his heels, sweating and stammering and gyrating like a porpoise while tossing up earth-rattling bricks and rainbow airballs from way too far outside, generally forcing the issue and -- perhaps for the first time in his life -- getting beat with the orb in his hand. Most mildly competitive humanoids could shake off such a whupping. Not Kobe the Lion, King of Competition. For dudes like Bryant, this is a nightmare. Like being slipped four too many drops of acid. At a circus. In Moscow. While locked in what you can only assume is a mortal feud between Russian knife-eaters and three-eyed Joes. There's only one way out, and that's on a stretcher. And Bryant could use one right now. Now, Angelinos breathe. Exhale. Then pry your jaws from your keyboards. Kobe's beatdown has nothing to with his ailing knee, and everything to do with the 13-year-old pumpkin he's staring down. And those darn complicated PlayStation remotes. That's right -- Bryant is merely playing a video game, Sony's "NBA '07: The Life Vol. 2," for which he's the cover athlete. And though it's his game, and he's playing with his team, the virtual Lakers, against the virtual Raptors -- the same wobbly runts on whom Bryant dropped 81 -- Kobe sucks at it. Oh, and it gets worse. Much worse. The kid is talking junk.
Check out Kobe Bryant living the PlayStation life.
|Kobe unveils the new man ... No. 24.|
"You know what I mean." Yes, I do. And so do Cookie and your Slovenian Paisan.
That's the commercial's conceit, and not a bad one. This Mead dude is pretty funny. Think Kurt Rambis meets Will Ferrell -- basically, how Larry Bird looked and talked, but not played. "You see him everywhere," Mead says. "Go to the Venice Beach courts and there he is, just a stiff hyper white guy who everybody hates playing against." Mead is soon joined by Brian Cook and Sasha Vujucic. Bryant is running a bit late, but his two teammates are already in purple-and-gold warmups and ready for their cameos. "I'm not into acting at all, but Kobe asked us to come, so we wanted to show some support," Cook explains of his invite, extended just hours ago after seeing Bryant at the Lakers' facility. "Plus, they say they'll pay me a little bit." For Cook, it's also a rare opportunity to hoop. He shows off a puke-inducing scar from surgery to repair a compound fracture in his right thumb, suffered while playing ball at Sports Club L.A. against civilians. "We were down by four, so I had to start playing hard," Cook says, smiling while explaining how he popped his thumb on the backboard. "I'm sure the Lakers weren't happy, but I'll be ready for camp." Finally, Kobe arrives, and by the looks of it he's happy to be on familiar turf after a no-ball summer. See, he himself is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. But this ain't no Curse of Amare -- last year's "NBA '06" cover boy, Amare Stoudemire, graced the box only to suffer a season-ending knee injury. No, Kobe got dinged up well before the gaming gig. When exactly? Sometime after game 81 and before the liberation of Iraq. We don't know, and Kobe isn't talking, but he says he'll be ready by the end of September. When Kobe saunters onto the set, the place lights up. He greets the crew, then gives some love to his teammates. There are backslaps, arm-punches, poking and prodding, and some less than ingenious nicknames. "Kob" (a silent "e"), "Cookie" and Sasha (no cool handle there) generally laugh and cackle like loons. Then Cook takes a deadly serious tone. "Wait," he whispers, closely examining Bryant's mug. "Are you wearing makeup?" More laughter. "Come on, man, don't mess around," Bryant laughs. "I'm sensitive." "It's cool, something to keep the sweat off, I guess," says Cookie, who is sans makeup. "I guess only superstars get that treatment." Then a makeup artist grabs Cookie for his turn in the makeup chair. Kobe can't resist. "OH, MAN!" Bryant bellows, ribbing at a far greater volume than Cookie dared. "YOU'RE WEARING MAKEUP? DAMN! MAKEUP?" "He had to hit me up real loud so everyone hears," Cookie says with a laugh. "OK, I see what's up now." The floor leader's attitude is infectious. During breaks in the action, the crew runs amok on the court, shamelessly tossing bricks at the defenseless rim. It's a fun shoot and, given the context, not quite what you'd expect. After all, this endeavor is supposed to be the barometer by which Kobe the pitchman can flex his newly rediscovered marketing muscles in his first major sports marketing deal since, you know, the incident. What's more, Bryant has been handed a serious-minded task: To help Sony grab a piece of juggernaut Electonic Arts' "NBA Live" pie. Last year, PS2's "NBA Live" sold more than 800,000 copies, compared to PS2's "NBA '06"'s 100,000. There's even a dash of rivalry. After 2K Sports lost the bidding war to Sony for the right to plaster Kobe's mug on its cover, it reinked old pal Shaq to a deal. The Heat might have bested the Lakers, but don't think Bryant wouldn't take at least a little joy in winning the gaming war. Bryant is enjoying this gig, even if he's not much of a thespian. "Acting isn't for me," Bryant admits. "They can make you look pretty, but you still have to act. You can't just smile for the camera. I don't like being in front of the camera in general." But it sure beats emceeing. Kobe says he's got no plans to work the mike after Sony Music put the prerelease kibosh on his album "Visions" back in 2000. "No way, not enough time," he explains, adding that he was unfazed by the critical lambasting. "I don't even remember the reaction, to be honest. Not even on my radar." (Too bad. Black Mamba would've made for the world's greatest stage name.) If Kobe isn't comfortable on a set, it doesn't show. In one scene, the Lakers' players (and a couple of lucky extras who pretend to be Lakers) take to the court for a fictional pregame shootaround. Billy Joe heckles ("I want you, Mamba look into the eyes of the defensive master") in an attempt to psych out Bryant. Thing is, Bryant is laughing. Chris Smith, a floppy red-haired youngin' of a director, sheepishly offers instructions from across the court. "Um, Kobe, a hair less laughter," Floppy says politely. "More annoyance." "But he's not annoying; he's funny," Bryant says. "I can't take him seriously with those (tight shorts)." With that settled, or not, Floppy addresses Vujacic: "Sasha, can you also look over at Billy Joe and act annoyed?" This too falls on deaf years. Not that Sasha is being difficult. The dude is legitimately confused because the tri-lingual wunderkind's top tongue is Serb-Croatian, with English running last. Luckily, Bryant speaks his second favorite form of discourse, so the Lakers' star relays what, to these clumsy ears, sounds something like this:
"Blah, blah, blah, Donatella," Bryant says. "Blah, blah, blah. Comprende? Vamos." That's right. Throughout the day, Bryant will relay Smith's directions to Vujacic in Italian. While the Slovenian -- who picked up the language while playing pro ball in Italy -- is grateful for Bryant's help, he's hardly surprised. "I always had a good feeling with Kobe," says Vujacic, who joined the Lakers in '04 at the age of 19. "From the first day, Kobe has helped me out the most. I had a terrible rookie year and I didn't play at all. I had a tough time. But Kobe always kept my head up. He taught me some moves, and he told me to leave the year behind and come back to show what you can do." "Kobe, he has really took me um, under his arms," Vujacic says thoughtfully, slowly and a tad incorrectly. "How you say? Sorry, I don't know how to express myself." It's cool. I think I got you. And if there was any doubt, Cookie drives the point home. He says Bryant is indeed a new man, meaning he wasn't always this how you say? cool.
|Virtual Kobe got game (as long as the real deal isn't at the controls).|
A few tosses later, Sasha is the victor. Now, we know the old Bryant would never go down like that. Kobe24? Same deal. Onto left-handers for another $50, and after a few attempts, Vujacic miraculously swishes one in. "Noooo," says Bryant, enveloping a giddy Vujacic in his arms before spitting out more rapid fire Italian. "Pinche, blah, blah, blah, madre." You don't have to be Slovenian to know Bryant is complimenting Vujacic's mamma. Just like that, Kobe24 is good ole' Kobe8, and Kobe8 has one key scene remaining. It's a tough one, because it doesn't quite fit as drawn out. The director needs a shot of the teammates leaving the court through the player's tunnel. They do a rehearsal run, with the players like cadets, jogging into the tunnel single file. "That's not right," Bryant tells Floppy afterwards. "We don't ever go in single file like that." Floppy suggests that Bryant improvise, offering to hand the reigns to the commercial's star. Bryant huddles with Vujacic and Cook, and then they try the shot again, this time implementing Bryant's suggestion. When the director yells, "Cut," Bryant heads to the playback monitor. "Cookie, Sasha, come here," Bryant says, clearing two spots in front of the monitor. They watch the last take. This time, we see the three Lakers sauntering, not jogging. Laughing, not stern. Arms draped around one another, not separate. "That's about as natural as it gets," Bryant says, nodding with approval. "Yeah, that's real." THE BUS HITS THE OFFICE
Can Bettis act as well as he ran the football? Check out his scene from "The Office."
"The Office" is a mockumentary-ish series, meaning the actors tend to improvise. You're not buying? Peep the script excerpt below, and then check it against the episode, which airs Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. ET. Then call me a liar -- but never to my face. I frighten easily.
INT. CONVENTION HALL -- D2
JEROME BETTIS signs autographs. We see some kind of SIGN that says JEROME BETTIS. Dwight taps Michael on the shoulder.
Check it out.
Michael sees him. Flashes a look of "Oh my God!" at the camera and heads over to the front of the line.
Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin. Huge fan.
Thanks, that's nice.
MICHAEL Listen, I'm having a blowout later. Room 308. Free booze. You should drop by. It's gonna be off da hook.
Yeah, cool ... maybe I will. MICHAEL
Awesome. Can I put your picture on my flier and tell everyone you'll be there?
|The Bus hangs out with Dunder Mifflin's finest.|