On Planet NBA, Kobe and the Lakers can coexist
If you needed another reminder that the NBA is unlike any other realm on Earth, it came this weekend from, of all places, the Women's World Cup.
After Hope Solo called out her coach's decision-making and threw her teammate under the Greyhound, Solo was told to skip the team's final game and go to her room. These things happen in the real world when you publicly criticize your boss and co-workers.
Meanwhile, on Planet NBA, the No. 1 training camp story has the Los Angeles Lakers eagerly anticipating the arrival of Kobe Bryant -- who called out management and trashed his co-workers the last time he talked publicly about his team.
If Bryant shows up for the team's Media Day on Monday, he won't be banished. He'll be welcomed with a sigh of relief from the front office and a few awkward exchanges with his teammates, including young center Andrew Bynum.
(Times like this remind me that one of the great developments of the 21st century is the acceptance of "Alright" as a form of greeting. You don't have to manufacture an ounce of cheeriness, which you do with "Hello." You don't have to wish even the slightest bit of happiness on someone you don't really care about, as is implied with "Good morning." All you're doing is acknowledging someone else's existence. "Alright, Andrew." "Alright, Kobe." And they can be on their way.)
While Bryant hasn't come out and said he will be there, the Lakers expect him to arrive in time to throw on a uniform, pose for the usual round of pictures and meet with reporters, just like the rest of the players.
Of all the reasons for him to play for the Lakers this season, the most logical one I've heard from anyone in Lakerland was this: "He's not going to walk away from $20 million."
The only way he makes the $19.5 million on his contract this season is if he plays. Barring a trade, the only place he can play for the next two seasons is with the Lakers. This isn't 2003-04, when he could opt out after the season. Back then, he had the hammer, and he wielded it like Mario smashing barrels in "Donkey Kong." This time, he's stuck.
The Lakers are counting on economics and pride. Even if Bryant would rather be elsewhere, as long as he is on the court, everything we've seen from him indicates he will give it his all. Bryant's most admirable trait -- the one that made Lakers fans gravitate toward him instead of Shaquille O'Neal and stick with Bryant even after he flirted with other teams in 2004 -- is his professionalism. Come game night, he's going to bring it. There's no threat of him turning into Vince Carter on the Raptors in 2004.
But how will he interact with his teammates? Will they be as eager and willing to just give him the ball and let him do his thing? Will he ever pass it back?
Well, Bryant disagreed with O'Neal more often than they got along over their eight seasons together. They also won far more than they lost.
On Planet NBA, as long as players demonstrate they can put winning above everything else, the parts can be mixed and matched without regard to the specific chemical interaction.
That's why the Chicago Bulls could successfully add the radical element Dennis Rodman to the mix, even though he had a personal history of animosity with Scottie Pippen from Rodman's days with the Detroit Pistons. Rodman also brought with him a couple of championship rings.
It's also why the Phoenix Suns feel they rather would just hang on to Shawn Marion, even though he said he would rather be playing with Kobe in L.A. They feel he has gone through bad moods before and he still has been a valuable part of their team.
Never underestimate the ability of NBA players to get over things. What's dead last on the list of Lakers concerns this training camp, falling well below waiting for Lamar Odom's surgically repaired shoulder to return to basketball-readiness, wondering if Bynum is ready to move up to the next step and seeing who will emerge as the most reliable point guard option among Derek Fisher, Javaris Crittenton and Jordan Farmar? Bryant's ability to get along with Phil Jackson. Remember, that was Topic A in the fall of 2005, when Jackson returned to the Lakers a year after ripping Kobe in his book. It quickly became a non-issue. They needed each other.
The Lakers and Kobe need each other right now. He needs the team so he can be an NBA player -- and stay visible to satisfy the companies he endorses. The Lakers need him to sell tickets and to have a shot at being competitive on the court.
So that's why he won't get the Solo treatment. Well, that and a difference that's as marked as the X and Y chromosomes.
The backlash following Solo's sniping at her coach and Briana Scurry after Greg Ryan started Scurry over Solo in the World Cup semifinals reminded me of Deborah Tannen's book "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation."
Tannen, a sociolinguist, researched the differences in communication within genders and between genders, and she reached the conclusion that, even within the same society, women and men constitute different cultures. Women bond by talking, while men bond by doing things together. Men try to one-up each other through conversation, while for women, trying to stand out through conversation is frowned upon. Any woman trying to put herself above the group quickly will find herself outside the group. That's what happened to Solo, who was left out of the consolation game after Ryan met with team leaders.
With Bryant and the Lakers, we're talking about a different gender, a different set of rules ... and an entirely different planet.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.
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