Kobe Bryant gives fans what they want
The Mamba put on a show in front of his home crowd, earning his fourth All-Star MVP
On Saturday, Kobe Bryant's hands and feet were immersed in wet cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater, a literal marking of turf in Los Angeles. But with all due respect to his new project with Robert Rodriguez, the Mamba's entertainment domain isn't Hollywood, but the hardwood.
Staples Center, doubling as "The Blake Griffin Show" on Friday and Saturday, sparked the "Whose weekend will it be?" debate among fans and media. After a fine showing at the rookie-sophomore game, not to mention his posterizing of a Kia, it would be understandable to wonder if the scales had tipped in Griffin's favor.
"It's not about that for me at this point in my career," said Bryant when asked if he was trying to remind folks L.A. is still his town. "I've been there, you know what I mean? It's very important for the game to continue to have young stars emerge."
Generous sentiments, to be certain, but Bryant has a funny way of expressing them on the court. In line with his sentiments about metaphorical torches passed to Derrick Rose, Bryant's performance during the West's 148-143 win over the East was a memo to hold off on any local changing of the guard.
Bryant scored 37 points (just five shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star scoring record), leading all scorers. He had 14 rebounds, including a ridiculous 10 on the offensive glass, also tops among players. He earned the All-Star MVP trophy, the fourth in his career, tying him with Bob Pettit for the most awards in the 60 years All-Star Games have been played.
Oh, and his 26 shots also marked him the leader in either clubhouse.
And beyond the volume of shots launched, the aggression in Bryant's selection was impossible to ignore. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 22 of his 37 points were scored within five feet, where he often stationed himself for easy buckets. The rim was attacked with reckless abandon, resulting in eight trips to the line and several dunks thrown down with force, the highlight a jam at LeBron James' expense.
"I exceeded my dunk quota for the game," laughed Bryant while on the podium after the game.
He backed defenders down and took ownership of the block.
A 3-pointer was created in space off the dribble, then stuck right in Dwayne Wade's grill.
Matched on a few possessions against Ray Allen, his energy was jarringly similar to their battles during last season's NBA Finals.
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By his own admission, he "stole" rebounds from Griffin and Kevin Love. The man even seemed interested in attempting defense well before the traditional final five minutes of play. The last time an exhibition match was treated so seriously from the outset by a competitor, Ivan Drago left Apollo Creed dead.
Did Kobe play like a guy gunning for MVP honors? Absolutely. Ostriches can't put their heads deep enough in the sand to miss that.
"You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP," smiled Amare Stoudemire. "He was not passing the ball at all. But that's Kobe."
"It's probably the last time he'll be able to play in L.A. in the All-Star Game," noted Dwyane Wade. "So he came out very aggressive, as aggressive as I've ever seen anybody in an All-Star Game."
"We wanted Kobe to get the MVP," said Carmelo Anthony, a close friend of Kobe's. "He got it going early, why not help him?"
For his part, Kobe said the honors weren't on his mind.
"I wanted to come out and play hard," insisted the superstar of his mindset. "I feel like we have a sense of responsibility and we are voted in for what we do during the season, which is play hard. And we come here, that's what the fans want to see. They want to see us go at it and see us compete and that's what I try to do and that's what I try to tell my teammates what to do."
Do I believe he was indifferent toward that trophy?
Not in the slightest.
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Do I have a problem with what I strongly suspect was a goal to snag that trophy?
Not in the slightest.
Like all the movie stars his hands and feet now call neighbors, Bryant was simply aware of his audience and playing to the crowd.
The All-Star Game has just one goal in mind: Catering to fans. It starts with a starting five decided at their whim, even though it guarantees a perpetually injured Yao Ming a place in that quintet. It bleeds into the weekend, where celebrities play basketball so Justin Bieber can win an MVP trophy courtesy of the people. Dunk contests feature props, choirs and skits that would make Vince McMahon proud. There are two days' worth of "Jam Session" activity next door at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a veritable lollapalooza of games, activities and free Taco Bell.
There's a reason Lenny Kravitz kicked off the game with "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and not some obscure song off "Let Love Rule."
These three days are about giving the people what they want, and in Los Angeles, they wanted a show from Kobe Bryant. It was obvious from the predictably huge reception when he was introduced. It was obvious from the roar of approval at every bucket. It was obvious by the way they chanted for him to make an entrance in the fourth quarter, despite the West's double-digit lead and the horrifying notion of Bryant incurring a freak injury during an ultimately meaningless game.
It was obvious by the way they relished Kobe pursuing this potential career chapter with fervor.
Like Bryant himself, I imagine the Staples faithful recognized this was the last time he'd ever compete in an All-Star Game in his own house.
At this stage of Bryant's career, nights like these are now a rare opportunity. From his perspective, the perspective of those in attendance and Lakers fans worldwide, they're cherished.
Every once in a while, giving the people what they want means taking more often than giving.
Every once in a while, hogging the ball is actually the generous thing to do.