Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Kobe Rules

The worm has turned for Kobe Bryant. Far removed from his boy wonder days, he has become a perplexing basketball enigma. Now that’s an oxymoron if there was ever one.

Kobe Rule #1 Stats the Thing
Consider this: as a rookie, then-Lakers’ coach Del Harris in a game against the San Antonio Spurs, asked his precocious rookie to take a possible game winner. The rookie from Lower Merion High who was taken by the Lakers from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Vlade Divac threw up an airball as time expired leaving him beside himself. But Chick Hearn, the voice of the Lakers, gently encouraged Bryant and warned that he’d be taking many more of those shots – and making them – for years to come. Hearn never realized what an understatement that was. During the Purple Reign over the NBA in the early 2000s, Bryant was literally tugging on Superman’s --- Michael Jordan’s cape. The fact that he was the only player outside Jordan’s teammates in the Bulls to be mentioned prominently in his photo-autobiography For the Love of the Game shows what the King thought of Bryant’s and his potential. Under the tutelage of Jordan’s former coach in Chicago, Phil Jackson, Bryant soon developed into a nasty big time game scorer and closer not seen since His Airness abdicated from the throne.

Together with the Big Aristotle, they won three straight titles in LA. Showtime was back and so was Jack in his customary courtside seat. Not that he left, but he would made treks outside Forum in Inglewood and to the United Center to watch one of the greatest NBA dynasties unfold in those formative internationalist years of the NBA.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant’s mad skills and assassin’s heart gave way to more disparaging portraits of the man: petulant, self-centered, and maybe even worse, a second-rate Michael Jordan. The Washington Times called him the League’s #1 villain supplanting RashWEED Wallace. All of a sudden, it’s only Nike that has him for an endorser.

He feuded with his dad, Jellybean Bryant, made enemies of a very unforgiving Philadelphia crowd after he said he’d cut out the hearts of Philadelphians everywhere when they met during the 2001 NBA Finals, and authored the break-up of the Lakers’ new millennium dynasty. There’s Eagle County, Colorado where Kobe will probably never get an All-star vote and there’s the last All-Star Game in Las Vegas where he engaged LeBron James in a shoot-out with an eye for the MVP Award much to his detractors’ chagrin.

After the Manu Ginobili, Mike Miller, and Kyle Korver incidents where he fouled them rather hard, word is the League is watching Bryant even more closely and any further allegedly flagrant fouls of this kind will mean multiple game suspensions.

Kobe Rule #2 Be the Best You Can Be
And after a recent loss to the Washington Wizards on the road, Bryant angrily confronted teammate Lamar Odom over a questionable decision in the game’s dying seconds. Guess that’s what losing does. After a game against the Seattle Supersonics, Bryant blocked Sonics counterpart Ray Allen’s lay-up attempt. Instead of picking up the loose ball, Bryant stared down Allen – a personal showdown between the two 1996 draftees. Looking the gift horse in the mouth, Sonics’ guard Luke Ridenour feed the rock to Rashard Lewis for a big time slam. "He thinks -- in his mind -- that he's going to shoot and try to show me up at any point in time on the floor," Allen said. "But his mentality and mine are different. I've got to do what it takes to help the team win."

Michael Jordan casts a very long shadow on the NBA. Clearly the League has moved on, but just as people used to compare hoops feats as Chamberlain-like, they’re now Jordanesque. Didn’t he get the loudest ovation during the All-Star Weekend?

Of course it’s rather unfair to make Bryant and aphorism given that his in the middle of his NBA career and for all his prodigious scoring skills, he has become basketball’s version of Mike Tyson – he plays with a chip on his shoulder and with angst worthy of Kurt Cobain.

Kobe Bryant for all his self-proclamations that he isn’t the latest of a long line of Jordanairres doesn’t help with his actions.

From the pumped fist, to the number changes… yes, the number changes.
- MJ wore #9 with the Dream Team. Kobe’s number in the US National Team is … #10.
- MJ wore #23 forever linking his name with the number (sorry Jim Carrey but your new movie sucks). Kobe now wears #24.
I wonder does this mean that he’s always going to be one step behind MJ?

It seems that Kobe Bryant is battling for more than a win on the court, he’s battling for respect. He is clearly yearning for those halcyon days when he ran with Nick the Quick, Speedy Eddie, and the Big Diesel. Before he began to embrace the Dark Side of the Force.

I’m a fan of Bryant the basketball player not the man. I wish he’d take the time off to reflect on his place in the hoops firmament and do what’s best for him, the team, and the League. Because if not, the Kobe Rules might be interpreted this way:
- You may have three titles, but you’ll never win six like MJ
- You may score 81 points (and 65 against the Trailblazers two days ago), but you’ll never win 10 scoring titles
- You may have Phil Jackson as your coach but you’ll never have him bat for you for all his “witch hunt” musings
- You may have been an All-Defensive Player but those flailing arms will bring you more suspensions.

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