|By Mike Owh|
Kobe is perfect.
There’s 12 seconds to go and Smush Parker has just made what seems like a pointless, but still difficult, three-pointer over Steve Nash (click over to the AL page to read about SMC's Memoirs of Nash). The Lakers are down by two points. Coming out of the timeout, everyone in the universe knows that the ball is going to Nash, a 92% free throw shooters, who’s inevitably going to get fouled. And it does go to Nash and it looks like Parker’s gonna foul him. But Nash slips and Parker reaches for the ball and somehow taps it away from the falling Nash. Then Parker whirls around and flips the ball to an alert Deavan George who dribbles down the court and passes the ball to Kobe Bryant, streaking down the court. Kobe goes to the basket and puts up a high arcing teardrop that barely clears the outstretched hand of Boris Diaw and somehow (somehow!) goes perfectly through the basket to tie up the game and force overtime.
In overtime, it’s the same thing. The Phoenix Suns look like they’re gonna win the game on two big time three-pointers from Tim Thomas and Nash. In fact, they still have a 3-point lead with less than 20 seconds to go. But Kobe takes the ball to the hole and makes a layup for the quick two- 97-98. Then the Lakers try to force Nash into a trap as he brings the ball up and for some reason, Nash dribbles straight into the double team on the sideline, at the exact same spot where he got ripped by Parkers just minutes before. This time it’s Luke Walton and Lamar Odom, two long and big fellas, putting the trap on him. There’s some contact as Walton tries to rip the ball from Nash’s hands, but there’s not a referee in the world who’s gonna call that in a game like this, at a time like this. It’s a jump ball. Walton stands 6’8” and Nash is barely 6’2”. Walton wins the tap on a second effort and who else, but Kobe gets the ball. Less than 6 second left. Kobe dribbles across the court to the strongside elbow where two Phoenix defenders try to crowd him. But he’s not even thinking about them; doesn’t even see them. Kobe just squares up and let’s fly a beautiful jumper- the type of shot you should see in a museum; the type of shot that allows you to here Coltrane, Monk, Miles; the type of shot that flows through the net with the certain twang of the twine; spine-tingling, joyous, victorious. Then…pandemonium.
There are many people out there who hate Kobe. There are those who say that he’s selfish, immature, Machiavellian, even a rapist. They say he can’t make his teammates better; that he shoots too much; that he doesn’t shoot enough; that he’s uncoachable. They say that he’s not street; that he’s not white; that he’s not real.
Kobe is not perfect.
I don’t know about any of these things. I don’t know what happened in that hotel room. I don’t know what his teammates think of him. I don’t know if he’s selfish. I don’t know if he’s a jerk. I don’t know if he shoots too much or shoots too little. I don’t know him personally at all. I don’t know what makes him happy or sad or why people seem to heap so much negativity toward him.
I do know that in this country, you are innocent until you’re proven guilty. I do know that when he scores 50 points (or 81), they say he shoots too much. I do know that when he doesn’t score that much, they say he’s being passive. I do know that the only way he can win is by having the Lakers win. I do know that Kwame Brown, Odom, Walton, and Parker, not to mention Sasha Vujacic, would not be the same players if they weren’t playing with Kobe. And there’s more.
I know that when Kobe has a basketball in his hands, it’s transcendent; it’s vibrant; it’s art. When the stage lights get the brightest; when the pressure becomes its most intense; when the playoffs hang in the balance; there’s no one that delivers more often and more compellingly than Kobe. He’s the latest in the long line of players before him- Michael, Magic, Bird, Dr. J- that takes a humble game and makes it ethereal.
In the end, he's just human.
And Kobe’s the reason why I, why all of us, play this game. Not specifically him, perhaps, but what he represents. The embodiment of brilliance and genius with a spherical object that, when in the hands of mere mortals just attempts to go into the basket, but in the hands of that ultimate athlete, performer, player becomes a force of nature, a living thing that you can’t help but keep your eyes on. And it’s not just Kobe, although he is the most luminous of all the stars (at least this year), but we’re blessed with LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and a host of exciting ballers during this wonderfully unpredictable playoff season.
And that’s why I love this game.
Points to Ponder…
This man is me.
• Subway ride home on Monday, May 1st. Half empty car, but there are a few children on the other side. One, a boy, maybe 8 years old, holding a placard with the image of Che. The other, a girl, a couple of years older, wearing an American flag as a cape. Obviously, they’re just coming from the Immigrants Rally. Me, in the traditional bourgeois uniform, three-button suit, Hugo Boss tie. But those kids and I, we are the same. We are the products of the American Dream, no matter how twisted and inaccessible that Dream has become. So I stand with them because America belongs to them, to us, to everyone, as much as it belongs to anyone. We are all here together and we are all immigrants. Let’s remember that.
• Take a look at this ad featuring our own Brian Yang. Does it look like he’s thinking about servers or does it look like he’s thinking “oh man, I’m so constipated, but I really want to eat this last dumpling”? Also, were the producers of this shoot thinking, “OK, he’s Asian, but he doesn’t look Asian enough with that shirt and tie combo so let’s have him eating out of a classic Chinatown restaurant bowl, using chopsticks, and drinking what looks like tea. Oh, and throw in some of that Chinese prop stuff in the background so everyone knows he’s Asian.” Anyways, disregarding the ad pitch in the ad, I want to know what the best caption for the picture should be. The wittiest captions will be posted next column and the top 3 will win YAO DVDs. Email me at email@example.com.