There'll be trouble in L.A.'s paradise

Updated: March 12, 2004, 5:07 PM ET
By Frank Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

Don't you think it's about time somebody gave Kobe Bryant a nickname, some sort of moniker to label him the universally beloved hero we all know him to be.

After all, the Los Angeles Lakers already have The Diesel, The Mailman and The Glove, not to mention Vanessa Williams' Husband, and it just doesn't seem right that poor Kobe doesn't have some endorsement-inducing designation as well.

I mean, when I look at the Lakers' stellar collection of future Hall of Famers, it reminds me of my days of innocent youth, watching the Super Heroes, Green Lantern and Aquaman and Batman and Superman and Spiderman and Wonder Woman and The Flash and Mighty Mouse and Speed Racer and Racer X and Scooby Doo and Tarzan. And it warms my heart to think that in the same way that those ficticious characters -- well, except for Speed Racer, who is real -- came together to fight evil and promote the pageantry of goodness is closely analgous to the way that the Lakers' Fearsome Foursome/Four Horsemen/Steel Curtain have bonded like a band of brothers this season, willing to lay aside all personal agendas for the greater good. They know that winning and placing their legend in the annals of history are far more important than the possibility of any tedious personality disputes.

What's that you say? The Diesel wants to run over Kobe? The Glove wants to strangle Kobe? The Meditator wants to forcibly remove, by means of deliberately calm inner contemplation, Kobe from his lucent subconscious?

What have I been smoking?

Clearly not the same thing as Damon Stoudamire, who is, according to the John Canzano-administered drug test, soon to be in a Wal-Mart near you, as clean as an unused bong. To his credit, Stoudamire cleared his house of the two pounds of ganja that was there previously -- er, rather, that his father's brother's uncle's sister's dog left there. Unfortunately, Stoudamire told Qyntel Woods to dispose of it and Qyntel was not exactly clear about what that meant.

In any case, there have been some subtle suggestions that there was some behind-the-back snickering and deep sighs of relief when Bryant re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder, if only because his removal from the lineup eliminates his irksome character flaws, which mainly deal with pomposity and a penchant to shoot the ball too often at inopportune times in an NBA affair.

You don't believe me? How about this story? Earlier this season, Bryant had a birthday party for his young daughter and invited some of his teammates to his home to celebrate. Guess how many attended the party? And those that did go were not named Glove, Diesel or Mailman. Yes, yes, there always is the excuse that the players didn't want to subject their children to being in the house of a man who ostensibly may be convicted of a heinous crime, but ...

By the way, if Kobe is found guilty of rape in Colorado, but is later in life inducted into the Hall of Fame on the merits of winning three, and possibly four, NBA championships, will his jersey in Springfield bear the No. 8 or the No. 8-816329-1312? Jes asking?

Not only that, what's up with the state of Colorado and sex crimes? In the past few years, it has been determined that just about every female cadet who attended the Air Force Academy has been sexually harassed in some manner, then Kobe goes Wilt Chamberlain in Eagle, and now reports of sexual misconduct on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder have surfaced. Somebody should do a study to determine if altitude and sex have a direct correlation.

In any event, I bring up the possibility of Kobe getting that fourth championship because we are getting close to the playoffs, and the time has come for the annual evaluation of whether or not the Lakers have a shot at another title, with or without the help of the officials.

Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal
Can the Lakers' four future Hall of Famers remain healthy and happy together?
I say maybe.

But not likely.

After all, has there ever been so much open dissension and strife on any team that won a championship? Yes, I know, there is always some dispute in an environment where huge salaries and huger egos hang in the balance, but this seems utterly over the top, even for contemporary athletes.

The Diesel and Kobe's disputes are well documented and no longer the subject of conjecture, given their recent public discussions of personal distaste for one another. But there is more to it than that.

I covered the Glove for many seasons, and I have seen this distant look of dissatisfaction many times, mostly in the latter years of his residence in Seattle. When he gets it, there is very little that will dissuade him from acting out.

The Glove may be expressing his displeasure with the way in which The Meditator is using him, but this frustration initially started with Kobe. When you see the Glove pass the ball to Kobe, then stand in the same spot with his hand on his hip and that long jaw jutted out, knowing that the ball is not coming back to him, well, that's not a good thing.

And keep this in mind: All of that was happening while the Mailman was out with his knee injury. When he gets back and starts taking some of the shots that already are sparse, what is that going to do for morale?

And what about Kobe's comeback from the shoulder injury? Kobe will be kicking his shot-taking into overdrive to remind every team with cap space that, although he is going back to the Lakers, he could actually score a lot of points for them.

Of course, I could be wrong. Many of us never thought the Lakers would win three straight titles when Kobe and the Diesel were backbiting one another in the early years.

But, then, I look at developments this season and wonder how in the world this volatile team can get through what will amount to another quarter of a season without something or someone exploding, and I think there is no way they can make it all the way through to mid-June.

After all, consider this: In the Glove's return to Seattle, the Lakers laid down and lost. In the Mailman's return to Utah, the Lakers laid down and lost. Now, is this a sign of a team that comes together in an all-for-one-and-one-for-all brotherhood?

Now that we have that settled, about that nickname for Kobe ...

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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