Kobe's 81 won't add character to his resume
BY JIM REEVES
Knight Ridder Newspapers
FORT WORTH, Texas - Kobe Bryant rocked our house Sunday night. We're still feeling the tremors.
You don't score 81 points in an NBA game without setting off a few earthquakes, but the fact that it was Bryant who authored that spectacle has really upset fans' equilibrium.
The question today isn't whether Bryant or some other player may someday score 100 points in a game, as Wilt Chamberlain once did. No, the real question is whether Kobe's 81 points were able to put about 81,000 miles between him and Colorado.
I was sitting in an airport watering hole in Seattle, waiting for the red-eye flight to bring me home from the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night, when I glanced up at the silent TV screen.
ESPN was on, and in the right-hand corner was a message that I was sure my fading old eyes had to be misreading.
I turned to the guy next to me and asked him to verify what I thought I'd read.
"Does that say Kobe scored 81 points in a game?" I asked incredulously.
"Yeah," he said. "That's exactly what the SOB did."
That may be the former SOB to many.
There are those who are absolutely certain that the sheer numbers alone will put Kobe back in favor with millions of easily influenced fans.
This is what "Chicago Tribune" columnist Mike Downey wrote this week of Kobe's watershed game:
"Americans by the thousands - average folk, not necessarily NBA fans - called and e-mailed each other Sunday night, not to gab about the Steelers and Seahawks going to the Super Bowl but to be the first on their block to ask: `Did you hear? Kobe Bryant just scored 81 points!'
"Behavior that presumably couldn't be forgotten or forgiven is going to be. Not by everyone walking the Earth, but by millions who are not merely impressed by big numbers but dazzled by them. It's as if Kobe just gave each of them an 81-carat rock."
The reference, of course, was to the sizable diamond ring that Kobe presented to his wife, Vanessa, in the wake of his "problems" with a sexual assault charge in Eagle, Colo., a couple of years ago.
As Downey pointed out, the over-the-top gift is still fodder for late-night jokes on Leno and Letterman.
Despite Downey's supposition that Kobe's on-court outburst will soon have him back with the in crowd, there has still been plenty of criticism and "ball hog" references around the country.
"It's remarkable, the execution and the efficiency, but we've got a lot of guys in this league, if they took 70 shots, they'd score a lot of points," Miami coach Pat Riley pointed out in the perfect example of damning with faint praise.
"Los Angeles Times" columnist Bill Plaschke made sure to use that quote in his Wednesday column, along with this from Lakers coach Phil Jackson:
"This goes along with who we are as a society. Somebody does something exceptional, people are looking for ways to denigrate them. In this society, we never give people a chance to come back to grace."
"If Tim Duncan had scored 81 points, the sports world would declare a national holiday. If Allen Iverson had scored 81 points, he would have rushed to "Oprah" to weepingly discuss his personal growth.
"Bryant is allowed no such vacation from his past, and will be offered no such public redemption of his sins."
Give me a break here, guys. Let's have some perspective, even if you are in Hollywood and everything's a movie script.
It's obviously a lot easier to be a Kobe fan if he plays in your town. The fact is, sports fans are remarkably forgiving, but it's not unusual for that forgiveness to be far more local than national.
Barry Bonds is still a hero in San Francisco, but roundly booed everywhere else he goes. They've forgiven Jason Giambi in New York, but they'll never let him forget his steroid use in Boston.
Bryant is a tour de force, a one-man show. His "is" the Lakers now, because that's the way he wanted it to be.
His 81-point concerto is even more impressive than Chamberlain's 100-point game because Bryant isn't 7-feet tall and wasn't dunking every shot. Inch for inch, he is the best player in the NBA. Period.
Sure, there are those who will always believe he's a rat_and I'm one of them_because of that fishy anticlimax to the Colorado scandal, but it's more than that. He also helped break up the Lakers' dynasty, basically forcing owner Jerry Buss to choose between him or Shaq.
That's why Kobe has no help in LA, and it's why, if the Lakers are to win, he may have to average 45 points a game.
I still remember the final words of Jackson's assessment of Kobe in his book, "The Last Season", before Jackson unretired to come back to coach the Lakers again.
"He could have been heir apparent to MJ and maybe won as many championships. He may still win a championship or two, but the boyish hero image has been replaced by that of a callous gun for hire."
A gun that's always on full automatic.
The thing to do with Kobe or any professional athlete is to keep their sports accomplishments in perspective.
Eighty-one points rattled the sports world, and it should have.
But there are still more important things in life, and character is right at the top of the list.
some people will be bitter forever