January 31, 2006

Bryant Defying All by Winning

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I think it’s fitting that a man named scoop is responsible for the scoop of the year so far. Scoop Jackson, thank you, for you were the first one to notice the change that has occurred in one man. The rest of ESPN, and the world, may have been covering the stats and the significance of his recent accomplishments. But you ignored all that stuff, and got to the real heart of the issue.

I’m talking about Scoop’s assessment of Kobe Bryant.

No, this is not another 81-points-is-really-really-good article. This is about much more than that. Because love him or hate him, you can’t deny Kobe Bryant. He won’t let you. Not anymore.

The mere mentioning of his name probably made you feel a spike of emotion – maybe hatred, maybe admiration, maybe something in between.

Whatever you feel, Kobe doesn’t care. He wanted everyone to love him as an amazing player before, but he’s way past that now. You see, he’s finally snapped. He’s officially pissed off at the world.

When you look into his eyes you can see it. When you watch him play you can feel it. When you listen to him speak you can hear it. He’s no longer a young kid, happy to be a star. He’s an angry player, who’s sick of hearing everyone talk. He wants to shut you up.

I believe he’s going to do it.

No one knows when Kobe snapped. Maybe it happened when he bashed in Mike Miller’s head as retaliation for Miller cutting his eye, resulting in a two-game suspension.

“Any player that was going to come down the lane at that point in time, I was going to let him know that he just can’t walk through there,” Bryant said in a post-game interview. “And me, as a leader of the ball club, I’ve got to take the initiative to do that – and hopefully, everybody will see that.”

Maybe it happened when he scored 62 points in three quarters against the Mavs. When asked if he wanted to go out for the fourth quarter, Bryant said no. He had already made his points to the world.

Maybe it was during one of his recent end of the game tirades, in which he has led the Lakers to victory all by himself.

Or maybe it was some other time. We’ll never know when it happened, but it’s finally paid off for him. You see, it’s that anger, that never-say-die attitude, that I’m-going-to-have-it-my-way-or-else mentality, that’s going to finally make him a winner. Kobe used to be a scorer, but that has changed.

Think about it for a second.

Jordan used to get mad, just plain pissed. It was that intensity and anger that drove him to become the greatest player of all time, and six rings. Kobe has been compared to Jordan all to often, and as we all know, Kobe is no Jordan. But for the first time, the comparison might actually be applicable. Jordan’s hatred of losing, hatred of his critics, hatred of not being the best, drove him to be the best.

Kobe’s anger, which has suddenly surfaced, has driven him into the same kind of zone. And the results are looking all too familiar. The Lakers are the seventh seed in the West with largely the same team and rotation that missed the playoffs last season. Since his suspension, Kobe has averaged more than 43 points per game, and the Lakers have lost only four games – one of which was to the West’s second-seeded team, Phoenix, and the other of which was to the NBA’s best team, Detroit (which has only lost five games all season).

Even ESPN NBA analyst Marc Stein wrote in his NBA Power Rankings yesterday, “If you say Kobe doesn’t make his teammates better, what you’re really saying is that you expected these Lakers to be more than a top-10 team. These Lakers?”

Kobe’s numbers are also looking eerily similar to a young Jordan’s numbers.

It may have taken Kobe a lot longer than Jordan (he didn’t go to college after all), but Kobe has finally have figured out what it takes to win. It seems to me that the sky is the limit for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, as long as Kobe stays angry.

So keep on thinking whatever it is you think about Kobe Bryant. Hate him. Love him. It doesn’t matter. Just remember that you’ve been warned.

Josh Perlin is a Sun Staff Writer. My Pitch will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Josh Perlin