As surprises go, Kobe Bryant re-signing with the Lakers is right up there with President Bush mentioning the war against terrorism in a campaign speech or a six-pack disappearing from the refrigerator of a fraternity house.
In other words, the past several weeks of breathless reports about which team Kobe was speaking to and where he might go have been an utter waste of time and emotion, a fraud perpetrated on the NBA and its fans by a man dedicated to proving to himself how wonderful he is.
There was never any question of where Kobe would end up — not in his own mind, anyway. He wanted us to think he could go just about anywhere, and his preposterous Denver dalliance is Exhibit A in the case against him.
He talked to the Knicks during his brief but self-aggrandizing dip in the free-agent pool. And, fools that we are, some in my business seriously speculated that, even though the Knicks are farther over budget than the Pentagon, he might come to New York because his endorsements would be worth more there.
Then there was the shameless flirtation with the Clippers. Kobe dared to suggest that he would go from one of the most celebrated franchises in sports to one that defines incompetence. He had enormous fun jerking Clippers fans around, making them believe that he might actually come to their sorry team.
He told management he wanted to play a dozen games a year at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim because it’s closer to his home, and management said, “No problem, Mr. Bryant, your lordship, sir. May we kiss the hem of your garment?”
In the course of his ego trip, Kobe made Lakers fans miserable with fear that he could actually leave. It was as if he hadn’t inflicted enough pain on them by helping to facilitate both the trade of Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat and the departure of coach Phil Jackson. He had to make them suffer more by pretending he really wanted to slide over to the Clippers.
I don’t think for a nanosecond that he set out to make the fans who worship his every move suffer. I don’t think he was even aware that his actions would cause anyone discomfort.
Kobe doesn’t seem capable of the sort of empathy it would take to understand that others have feelings, too. He is the only person who fully exists in his world. And the charade he played had no purpose other than to swell his self-esteem. It was a power trip, pure and simple.
And it was unnecessary.
The Lakers had already handed him the team. He probably never told them, “If you want me to stay, get rid of the fat guy at center,” or, “Either Phil goes or I go.” He didn’t have to. He let everyone know how he felt both about his co-star and his coach.
So the Lakers moved Shaq and dumped Phil. Jerry Buss, the owner, said that he was building his future and his team around Kobe — if Kobe wanted to stay. The team said from the get-go that Kobe would get as much money as NBA law allows. The Lakers even called Mike Kyzyzewski to see if the Duke icon would come West to run the team — because that’s the man Kobe suggested he would like to play for.
After all of that, there was no question that Kobe would do anything but stay. He, not the G.M. or the coach, would have total control of the team. He would be the sole superstar, the shining sun around whom a fabled franchise revolves. He would be rich enough to hire every lawyer in the country for his defense. The L.A. fans would continue to worship him.
And he would remain in southern California, where his wife wants to live.
But, still, Kobe had to play his little games whose only purpose was to feed his insatiable ego. The whole process was a sham and a travesty and a fraud that ended exactly as he had decided it would even before it began.
He’s a Laker now, if not for life, then for at least seven more years. He got what he wanted. The Lakers got what they deserve. It only remains to be seen what that will turn out to be.
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Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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