- J.A. Adande, NBA
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Kobe Bryant slipped into a darkened room and laid his eyes on the object of his affection.
"There she is!" Bryant said. "There's my girlfriend! Long time, no see."
He was talking about the Larry O'Brien trophy. What, you thought this was about something else? I don't blame you. It's easy to let your mind wander to everything but basketball with this Lakers team that has been more E! than ESPN lately. And so the internal battle lines were clearly drawn on media day, as the players fulfilled various obligations from posing with the championship trophy to donning fake Manny Ramirez dreadlocks and taping Dodger Stadium promotional gags. This is about Phil Jackson's management ability and Bryant's obsession with winning against a legion of what Pat Riley used to call "peripheral opponents."
"We have the talent to win another one," Bryant said. "If we don't, it's because of our lack of focus or something else, because of injury."
If everyone in the building could be as focused as Bryant -- or even focused on Bryant -- it wouldn't be an issue. But things are different now. Bryant didn't command the attention of every reporter this day, as some were far more concerned with what Lamar Odom had to say in his first media availability since his Indy 500-speed marriage to Khloe Kardashian. Bryant wasn't even the runner-up media target; that distinction belonged to Ron Artest, who held court on the topic of distractions.
"You've got to welcome the distractions," Artest said. "It depends what you think about, or determine what the distraction is. Is it just the cameras, is it becoming a bigger star in the media, or is it like a real negative kind of distraction? If it's just the cameras and a lot of attention, then that's fun."
Sure it's all fun -- until a relationship is shattered. Ask Jon and Kate. Or Jessica and Nick. The track record for reality show intrusion on married couples isn't good, which makes reports that Ryan Seacrest wants to produce a show about Odom and Kardashian sound even scarier. (Wonder if Seacrest would care that, legally, a report says they aren't married?)
Could we see Khloe Kardashian and her Kamera Krew following the Lakers on the road?
"I'm not sure," Odom said. "That's a Laker game; with or without her there, it's still an event."
True, and is it really that far of a leap from the all-access of "Hard Knocks" or NBA.com's training camp streaming videos to this place the Lakers now occupy? Yes.
"The Hollywood media is different than the sports media," Derek Fisher said, and it's evident that Odom was treating the latter like the former. Odom's normally completely relaxed around reporters, giving and taking good-natured verbal jabs, expounding on everything from clothing to the New York Yankees. He looked uneasy Tuesday, pressed, weary of it already, a little bit defensive about a wedding that has drawn so much attention and criticism.
"I just want people to respect and understand how we feel about each other, and that's it," he said.
If this were simply a love story, we could leave it at that. But when the relationship is only a month old and the wedding pictures have been auctioned off to OK magazine for a six-figure sum and there's a potential series in the works and TMZ cameras are lurking outside of restaurants and, oh yeah, there's an NBA championship to defend it's engrossing on too many levels. And because he's part of a team, it's an issue for everyone else in purple and gold.
"This thing with Lamar is kind of like a new thing that I don't think any of us have dealt with before or fully understand," Fisher said. "It'll be interesting. I think the key part for us is to make sure that this is a sanctuary for Lamar, when he's with us when he comes here, he's at work."
Perhaps I'm being a naïve single guy, but isn't a marriage supposed to provide a sanctuary from the pressures of work, not the other way around?
At least none of Odom's teammates claimed to be as blindsided by the wedding news as Khloe's stepfather, Bruce Jenner. Which reminds me, Bruce Jenner and Lamar Odom are now part of the same family. Can you imagine them conversing in the hospital waiting room with the newly reconciled Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush while Kourtney delivers her baby? You bet I'd watch that episode -- about as closely as I'll be following a season that figures to be unusual even by the Lakers' wacky standards.
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.
More than title talk, Lamar Odom's recent nuptials put him uncomfortably in the spotlight.