Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Kobe's Revenge

I woke up Monday morning and turned on ESPNews only to see a news alert in the bottom right hand corner of the screen that said “Pittsburgh vs. Seattle in the Super Bowl” and “Kobe scores 11 points”. Or, at least that’s what I thought it said. My TV is a little warped so it was hard for me to read the small print. Kobe scoring 11 points is no big deal but the only other number it could’ve been was 81. I called my wife into the room and she confirmed it said 81. I felt like a kid waking up on Christmas morning to a boatload of gloriously wrapped presents. I’ve never been the biggest Kobe fan but it could’ve been Brian Cardinal scoring 81 points and I would’ve had the same “kid in a candy store” reaction. Something like an 81-point game literally happens once in a lifetime. By the way, I’d like to personally thank Kobe for putting me in that mood. I don’t experience those moods nearly as much as I’d like. I’d also like to thank Brian Cardinal for not scoring 81 points. I don’t think I would be able to respect the NBA if that happened.

The most impressive aspect of Kobe’s performance was the fact that the Lakers were down by 18 points in the third quarter before Kobe went off. That means that the only real chance the Lakers had of winning was to let only one man shoot every time down the court. Using that strategy, the Lakers went from being down by 18 to winning by 18. That should give you an indication of how unstoppable Kobe was against Toronto in the second half. As one would expect, there were the normal share of people bemoaning Kobe’s shot total and the fact that team basketball was somehow dead. Not coincidentally, many of the antagonists were a part of the Miami Heat organization. Big surprise, eh?

Here are just a few comments made that were clearly meant to downplay the significance of Kobe’s 81 points:

Pat Riley

"Anybody who's got the kind of energy to try to hoist up [nearly] 70 shots is going to score a lot of points," Riley told reporters in Miami, referring to Bryant's 66 field-goal and free-throw attempts. "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." (LA Times online article)

File this comment under the “duh” category. If I took 1,000 shot in an NBA game, I might get 70 points. The problem is that I couldn’t get off 1,000 shots. Likewise, 99.9% of NBA players couldn’t get off 70 total shots even if they tried. Riley seems oblivious to how difficult it is to a). get off 70 (combined) shots while constantly being double and tripled-teamed, b). shoot over 50% from the field under those same conditions, and c). be in a position where the only chance your team has of winning is for you to shoot every time down the floor. Riley clearly outs himself as being bitter for whatever reasons. If any NBA player could win a game single handily by taking 70 shots per game, then every team in the NBA would employ that strategy. Is the object in the NBA to play team ball or to win? There’s no question that the goal is to win at all costs. The only way it’s about team ball is because that generally gives teams a better chance of winning. If not playing team ball gave teams the best chance of winning, then nobody would play team ball. Maybe Riley can show us just how easy it is for someone to score 81 points AND win by letting either Shaq or Dwyane Wade shoot the ball 46 times next game.

Shaquille O’Neal

O'Neal declined to comment. "He told us to get him 50 shots," Walker said, suggesting that O'Neal was fully aware of Bryant's display. (LA Times online article)

This comment made me laugh. The day Shaq has the stamina to get 50 shots is the day that Shaq is playing one on one against me. It’s amazing to me how great these players think they are. If Shaq was such a team player, and he thought he could score 81 points and lead the Heat to victory, wouldn’t he be letting his team down by not doing that? Let’s see it Shaq. In the playoffs last year, Shaq made virtually every shot he took against the Pistons to start each game. The problem for the Heat is that Shaq had to rest after the first quarter just to be able to play in the fourth quarter. Plus, the minute Shaq gets double-teamed, he has NO options other than to pass because he can’t dribble or shoot outside of eight feet. Kobe was constantly being double-teamed the entire second half and Toronto still couldn’t stop him.

Antoine Walker

"I think with the 81 now, no other team or other players will let that happen," he told reporters. "Now guys will foul out trying to stop him from doing that. If someone gets 81 on me, I'm going to clothesline him." (LA Times online article)

Has Antoine Walker heard of the rule in the NBA that permits players to shoot free throws when fouled? Apparently, the answer is no. Unless, of course, Walker would like to allow Kobe to score more than 81 points. Sending him to the free throw line every time he touched the ball would be a sure-fire way of ensuring that. I just read a first hand account by David Robinson about his 71 point game against the Clippers in 1994. Here is what Robinson said to some dude named Bert Rosenthal, “Once my teammates realized that I had such a hot hand, they kept looking for me, trying to get me the ball.The Clippers, of course, were trying hard to stop me. They were fighting, clawing, bumping, grinding, and double- and triple-teaming me to try and keep me from scoring. I had the scratches and bruises to show for it. In fact, I went to the foul line 25 times that night. That's a remarkable number under any circumstances.” According to Antoine Walker, stopping Kobe is as simple as fouling him. It sounds like that philosophy worked wonders for the Clippers.

David Thompson

"With the 3s, I could have easily been in the 80s," Thompson said Monday. "I only took 38 shots. The way I was going, I probably could have been at 80 or 90 (points). I probably would have made seven or eight 3-pointers. “If I took more shots, I would have made five from the field. But 81 points, that's impressive. It takes a great player like that to put up those numbers." (Denver Post online article)

If Kobe was somehow warped back to the 1970’s, he could’ve probably scored 100 points. He is so athletically superior to the average player in the 1970’s that they would have no idea how to guard him. Plus, Kobe only hit seven three pointers. If Thompson wants to say that he would have also made seven three pointers, then that would’ve given him 80 points. For Thompson to say that he would’ve scored 80 or 90 points had there been a three point line, he’s stretching the truth quite a bit. In fact, for Thompson to score 90 points, he would’ve need to make 17 three pointers. That seems reasonable, I guess. Additionally, Thompson’s Nuggets LOST the game in which he scored 73 points. The Raptors knew that Kobe was going to take every shot and still couldn’t keep him from single handily bringing the Lakers back from an 18 point second half deficit. Thompson’s “what if”-game could be played by many other players. The fact of the matter is that he scored 73 points in an era that was much less competitive than today’s era.

Vince Carter

"It is great for the league, for him, just because of the buzz it has created," said Vince Carter, who this season with the Nets tied his career high of 51 points. "The only bad thing about it is younger kids, whose minds are easily warped, are going to think, 'Ohhh! I am going to go out there and do it' instead of the team concept first. That is what is missing, guys understanding how to play as a team. “They (the NBA) want scoring, they want ratings so you are going to get that,” said Carter. (NY Post online article)

The only thing I have to say about this comment is that Carter has gone on record saying that he didn’t play hard in games while he was playing for Toronto. Apparently, Carter felt that was actually helpful for today’s basketball youth to see a player purposefully not try because he was unhappy.

People can say whatever they want about Kobe’s role in breaking up the Lakers dynasty or his conduct that led to allegations of rape in Denver. However, to downplay Kobe’s 81-point performance only exposes people for being ignorant and envious. I just want to make it clear that there is nothing negative, whatsoever, about Kobe’s performance. Kobe’s team was playing so poorly that they were getting blown out by one of the worst teams in the NBA. Kobe’s shooting percentage was an unbelievable 61% on 46 shots. He also shot a blistering 90% from the free-throw line and 54% from the three-point line. Before Kobe took the game over, the Lakers were losing by 18 points. After Kobe’s onslaught, the Lakers ended up winning by 18! It could be argued that no other player in the history of sports has had a greater impact on a single game. Yet, Kobe has been criticized for taking too many shots in that game. I find that criticism to be unbelievable. Had he not taken the game over, the Lakers would’ve lost. Some people are spinning things so violently that they would have you believe that Kobe would’ve been a better team player by letting the Lakers get blown out. If that doesn’t tell you that there will always be people on the other side no matter how ridiculous the other side is, then nothing will.

To put the ridiculous response to Kobe’s performance in perspective, I’d like rehash the game I mentioned above involving David Robinson. The San Antonio Spurs entered the final game of the 1993-94 season firmly entrenched in their playoff position. The Spurs were playing the Clippers who also had nothing to gain from the game. In a purely selfish move, Robinson scored 71 points to pass Shaq to win the scoring title. Kobe’s performance was the antithesis of Robinson’s, yet Kobe has already received considerably more criticism than David Robinson ever did. The Admiral is one of my favorite NBA players of all time. I have no qualms about his 71 point performance. My point is that if nobody made a stink about that purely self-centered performance, then how can anyone slight Kobe’s infinitely more meaningful performance?

My guess is that most sports fans feel the same way that I do. It’s just that the criticism has been enough to actually take away from the performance in my view. If it were just one or two people saying something negative, then I probably wouldn’t care. Regardless, Kobe’s 81-point game was the greatest performance in NBA history. Wilt’s 100 was the equivalent of me dunking on a seven foot rim over and over against my 4th grade neighbors (which I actually did and I loved every minute of it). While Wilt was great, his dominance has to be put into perspective. The “greatest ever” discussions inevitably work their way towards the idea that you have to win championships and be great. Kobe is only 27 and has already accomplished a career’s worth. He has three Championship rings to go with his 81 point game. I have to say I’m quite intrigued with regards to how the rest of Kobe’s career will pan out. All I can say is that nothing would surprise me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

whats up jake!

I can't say that I'm a big Kobe fan. I think he's selfish, and I don't know if he's truly ever gotten the team approach. Then again, Kwame Brown might be a bigger bust than Darko. Smush Parker was part of Detroits revolving guard at the end of the bench, and now starts in LA?!? So in Kobe's defense, he's not playing with much (Even Odom has never really reached his potential). On top of that, Kobe was hitting his shots. Hitting at a high clip, when his team needs him, to come back and win a game. Man, I couldn't believe it. I've never doubted Kobe's talent, now my question is will T-Mac or AI try and duplicate or better?

This isn't 61-62. Wilt averaged over 50 points per game that year I believe. He had 45 games over 50 that year. If Kobe played in that era, he might've been the 3rd tallest person in the league!

At the same time, I think Vince is a bit jealous. With the way Detroit is playing, and with San Antonio too, I think a lot of the kids are seeing what it takes to win championships. Too bad Detroit can't get an all-star starter, and the Kobe's, Lebron's, and T-Mac's still get the espn and tnt coverage as well as the shoe endorsements. Why doesn't Nike or Adidas get the Piston's starting five under contract and have a "team" shoe



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