Kobe Bryant breaks his silence
After losing to the Heat, the Lakers' captain challenges teammates to be professionals
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant sat in the middle of the Lakers' training room, looking down at the floor below, immune to everyone and everything around him. While Pau Gasol finished changing to his left and the Lakers' training staff finished packing to his right, Bryant simply sat there, between two training tables, deep in thought.
In a perfect world, he would have slipped out the back door and not faced the mob of media that awaited him down the hallway. After all, he had skillfully avoided talking to the media for the past four days after getting ejected from the Lakers' 98-79 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
It wasn't at all odd to see Bryant alone after the game. It was simply the end to what had already been a lonely Christmas Day for Bryant. He arrived at Staples Center over three hours before the game by himself; his usual security detail nowhere to be found. He was the first person onto the court for the shootaround; practicing his jump shot and working in his new neon green shoes with no one around him. And when the game was over, he left the arena by himself. His family, which normally waits for him outside the locker room, was already gone by the time he emerged.
Bryant may be feeling alone in the locker room and on the court as well recently. As talented as the Lakers are and as well as they've played as times, he must be wondering how many players on his team are truly committed to winning another championship instead of being content with the hardware they already have.
"All it takes is one guy," Bryant said after the game, breaking his mini silence with reporters. "Our philosophy is that everybody must be on the same page. You're only as strong as your weakest link and we all have to lock in and get going. We're playing like we have two rings."
Bryant, who has five rings, looked disgusted as he talked about the way the Lakers have played during their worst two-game home stretch in five years. He knows how hard it is to three-peat and understands the Lakers aren't going to get it done by cruising along the way they have this season. What may have worked last year or the year before doesn't necessarily work for a team trying to what only three teams have done since 1966.
"This isn't going to be easy," Bryant said. "If it was easy to three-peat, you'd see a lot of teams do it in the past. That's why so few teams have been able to do it. If we're going to do it we're going to need to get our butts in gear.
"The game has to be the most important thing. You have to focus on it, you have to play every game like it's your last, you have to be attentive to what's going on. This is serious stuff. You don't just have two rings and say we're satisfied with what we got. I'm not rolling with that. I'm not going to let that slide."
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As Bryant spoke to the media it sounded like he was channeling his inner Phil Jackson, who often uses media sessions to serve as team meetings. He wasn't simply telling the reporters in the room the Lakers had to change, he was also telling his teammates who would no doubt watch and read his comments when they got home. And in case they didn't, he promised he would remind them when he saw them Monday.
"I'm going to kick some [butt] in practice," Bryant said. "It's going to get through. I'll beat it in their head until it gets through."
Bryant had a feeling the Lakers weren't going to play well coming into their much-hyped game against the Heat on Christmas Day. The Lakers are 4-8 on Christmas Day since 1999 and Bryant has almost become used to seeing his teammates more excited about the presents they received in the morning than the game in the afternoon.
"We always [stink] on Christmas," Bryant said. "I don't think we're mean enough to be able to show up on Christmas Day and play. They should just take us off this day.
"I think these games mean more to our opponents than they do to us. I think we need to get that straight. We need to play with more focus and put more importance on these games. I don't like it."
The bigger problem for Bryant outside of the Lakers' performance on Christmas Day is the common perception that the Lakers' season doesn't really start until the playoffs begin. That just because the Lakers got blown out last Christmas and went on to win the championship, this game really doesn't matter in the big scheme of things.
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"It's your job. You need to show up and work," Bryant said like an angry boss talking about his habitually late employees. "I don't buy that crap. Show up and get to work."
When the Lakers have shown up and worked like a team they've played like a two-time defending champion capable of winning a third straight title, but when they haven't they've been embarrassed at home and looked up at empty seats as they've walked off the court.
"It's not about getting embarrassed," Bryant said. "I don't get embarrassed. It's about winning. It's the competitiveness of winning the game. I don't like losing. I don't care what anybody thinks. I just don't like losing, period."
It may seem like a common feeling, but far too often this season, Bryant has been alone in that sentiment.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.