Bryant scores 81 but rates a zero as a hero
January 25, 2006
BY GREG COUCH SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
It happens all the time. When one of our major sports leagues hits a dry spot, starts to run a little short in fan appeal, something, someone pops up and pow! He saves the league's backside.
And so just in time, the NBA has found someone to sell, someone for us to talk about. Someone to love. His name?
Kobe Bryant? Again? He scored 81 points Sunday in Toronto, and some people are calling it the greatest game ever played. It was amazing all right but not the greatest. Hyberbole aside, the NBA is using Bryant's game to juice the league and also to find a way out of a spot. For $3.95, you can buy a copy of the game on Google, part of a new working arrangement with the NBA.
And according to ESPN.com, the NBA store in New York is going to start selling a Lakers jersey today with No. 81 and Kobe's name. And Spalding will sell a commemorative ball on NBA.com.
Kobe Bryant? Are we supposed to love him again? This man already was made by a marketing campaign once before, and that worked out fine until reality forced us to open our eyes.
I'm not buying.
It's true that the charges were dropped in Bryant's sexual-assault case in Colorado. He said he was merely cheating on his wife in that hotel room, not assaulting anyone. But Bryant was built up as the anti-Allen Iverson, the next Michael Jordan. He was the good guy, the family man. And we know that wasn't true, don't we?
I'll never forget him winning a Teen Choice Award and surprisingly showing up with his wife, Vanessa, at the award show, decked out in bling: chains, a cross and silver "I love Vanessa'' bracelet. All that at the same time he was working through his legal troubles over a teenage woman accusing him. How insensitive for him to turn that into a photo op, botching a Martin Luther King quote, saying, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,'' for his public-relations benefit.
How desperate must the NBA be to restart a Kobe campaign? You can say that the kids should just marvel over Kobe's jump shot and not try to be like him, not idolize him. But that's a little simple-minded. It doesn't work that way. This pitch is big.
And not long ago, American basketball was the ridicule of the sports world at the Olympics in Greece, as U.S. players didn't seem to understand that basketball was a team game. And a bunch of basketball guys in suits grimaced and sighed heavily and vowed to find a way for American basketball to return to what the game was really all about.
We can see where the sport is headed, with the beautiful teamwork of Detroit and San Antonio. Yet I don't see much of a Manu Ginobili campaign, and he's the greatest team player in the world.
Kobe again? Are you kidding?
"The only bad thing about it is that younger kids whose minds are easily warped are going to think, 'Oh, I'm going to go out and do it, intead of [honoring] the team concept first,''' New Jersey's Vince Carter told the Newark Star-Ledger. "That's what's missing in the game, guys understanding how to play as a team. ... You can still become a star in your own right if you play your role.''
It's absolutely amazing that Bryant scored 55 points in the second half. But the last 15 came in garbage time.
His play was amazing, incredible, fantastic. But to call it the greatest game ever played is to fall into a marketing campaign. It's to cherish exactly the thing that is hurting basketball. Eighty-one points in a nothing game against a terrible team does not outdo Michael Jordan's 69 against rival Cleveland in 1990. Jordan had a career-high 18 rebounds in that game, too.
Am I failing to give Kobe credit for his two assists Sunday?
NBA not interested in teamwork
Did you know that during Bryant's last physical, doctors found kidney stones? He refused to pass them.
That's the joke going around. Bryant had a chance to be part of a team, but all but ran out Shaquille O'Neal. He didn't want to be part of a team. He wanted to be himself.
Jordan won championships when he learned how to become a team player. Bryant took 46 shots Sunday. How many times did Jordan take 46? Once.
It's a little unseemly to see this shower of love on Bryant, as if 81 points made the man. But his marketing blackball is all over now.
This is business, I guess. The NBA has a superstar in Bryant but had been having a tough time figuring out how to push him. As of last year, his jersey wasn't selling much anymore.
The NBA can't sell basketball, can't sell teamwork. The Pistons were 33-5, and no one was talking about that. And now the league has these 81 points, and, after all, Bryant wasn't convicted of anything.
So the NBA has its hero back. Kobe saves the day.