The person becomes the persona until the persona crushes the person.
On the basketball court he is a lyricist like no other. His flows resonate so deeply with his audience that they are left gasping at the end of his show. In between, syncopated beats go well beyond the set 16 bars, sometimes shortened to 12, eight, and then in a moment when he seems to hang there while the world stops… the bars go on forever.
They hate his West Coast sensibilities. ESPN must stay awake each time he plays a concert because no one knows when the 50s might drop – like they did last year. He went gangster and dropped 81; eight plus one – nine, the number of initiation. Did he have a purple and gold bandanna tilted over his right eye? People swore he Lake-walked on water that night; there was this condensation turned to mist to droplets to rain that covered the court from below where the Kings’ ice lay; everybody’s eyes were – glazed, and the crowd had this look like, ‘My mind starts trippin’ a tear drops my eye…” as the last point turned limp nylon to shimmering angel hair.
The new Black Jesus is not aka the Pearl, but like his namesake, a crucifixion is always just around the corner. But America eats its young. An artist sometimes must be sacrificed – so? And if he is pressed into enough corners all the while following the trail of the allure of fool’s gold —— he will begin to eat himself.
Just ask Kobe Bean Bryant.
On June 16, 2005, Howard Beck of the New York Times penned an article about the return of The Don.
Don’t mistake his broke-hip glide for a pimp-stroll. That walk is the result of 22 years spent in Converse running from Montana. The Don has a ring for every finger but the digit he uses to thumb his nose at the rest of the world. In the parlance of his domain… he pimp fly maximum never call a timeout. Watch the proceedings keepin’ mum, chewin’ gum, on the seat next to him Sunday dim sum. And when you come to his throne he give up some zen advice, you leave thinking why my mind so scram-pled damn, he still sittin’ like uh, dum diddy dum (Don Dada in Armani, ummm — lum lum).
But all who followed him to the depths of themselves opened up just enough to his Alan Watts-ness to find that place of peace in times of battle that separates true winners from those to whom they lay waste.
The Don once took a white boy to ghetto parks and asked him to explain the scene he was witnessing. White boy was stunned at what he saw. The Don leaned over and said, “What, you scared to death? Scared to look? Ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks.” At that moment the white boy went from being known as “The Waiter” to, “I Need the Rock”; the Don would do anything for another ring.
On that day in 2005 The Don said:
“I’m not the panacea for this basketball club. It’s going to take plenty of hard work; it’s going to take a dedication over the course of the summer to change the face of this team a little bit.”
Not even Phil Jackson was truly prepared for what lay ahead. Just a little less than one year later Jackson and his 45-37 Lakers, after holding a three games-to one lead, lost a seven-game first round series to the heavily-favored Phoenix Suns. Who ever expected a group of players led by one of the most selfish players ever to don an NBA uniform to suddenly undergo an epiphany and decide to rely on open teammates to make shots? Who would have thought that the baby Lakers would grow up so quickly and physically and mentally beat down MVP Steve Nash to the point where the basketball-watching world witnessed him wither before their eyes as the playoffs progressed? Who could have guessed that if it hadn’t been for a 3-point shot from the ever-underachieving fugazy fella, Tim Thomas, the Lakers would have unceremoniously run the Suns from the playoffs, four games to one?
Fast rewind to 2004-05.
Kobe, after much teeth gnashing, re-signs with Los Angeles Lakers:
Bryant insisted he had nothing to do with the departures of O’Neal and former head coach Phil Jackson.
“That upsets me. That angers me. That hurts me,” Bryant said of speculation that he was involved in the team’s decision-making.
“They did what they had to do. That had nothing to do with me. In a perfect world, we would have all come back and won another (championship).”
Bryant, who said repeatedly this past season he wanted to be a “Laker for life,” is poised to fulfill that declaration. His contract will be worth more than $136.4 million over seven years.
“I always wanted to be a Laker,” Bryant said. “It’s in my heart. This is what I do, this the team I want to play for and have a chance to finish out my career here.”
That season Bryant played under the near-crushing weight of the trial that never came to be in Eagle, Colorado. He toiled on a team of old dogs with bad habits. He watched Rudy Tomjanovich quit in the middle of the season and heard the volleys that he was poison, lobbed by The Don’s book from his bunker by the sea in Australia. Bryant suffered through that thoroughly forgettable 38-44 season and vowed never to lose again.
Fast forward to May 28th.
Kobe Bryant drops a koan on the press:
I am inside and out,
Lies return to haunt masters.
Silent screaming will follow.
Bryant found out from a “Lakers insider” that someone inside the organization lied to the media and blamed him for the trade of Shaquille O’Neal:
“Their trying to put this Shaq stuff on me is ,” he told The Times. “Jerry Buss told me he didn’t want to pay Shaq $30 million a year. I, not once — not once — went to them and said, ‘Trade Shaq or else.’ “
Later, in an interview with AM 570, Bryant took aim at the state of the front office by saying, “That place is a mess.”
“If we’re not making any strides here to improve this team right now, to be aggressive in that nature, then what’s the point of having me here?” he said.
O’Neal, for his part, agreed with Kobe’s assertion:
“There is no doubt in my mind Kobe is telling the truth.”
Later in the day Bryant put in a call to The Don, who must have given up some Lao Tzu knowledge to K. Bean because soon after the conversation with Jackson, Bryant backed off his demands:
“I don’t want to go anywhere, this is my team,” Bryant told KLAC radio. “I love it here.
“I called Phil. Man, he and I talked, it was an emotional conversation.
“But he just said, ‘You know what, Kobe? Let us try to figure this thing out.’ Phil is a guy I lean on a lot.”
Damn, The Don is good.
Quick rewind to post-playoff loss exit interviews.
After a 4-1 playoff chop-busting by the Phoenix Suns, a clearly frustrated Bryant had this to say after leaving Jackson’s office:
“I just told [Kupchak] this summer’s about getting us to an elite level, doing whatever it takes to make it happen,” Kobe Bryant said. “This is a competitive city. We’re used to winning titles, not just winning games and being in the first round. We want to win championships. Now’s the time.
“That’s one of the things when I re-signed here, they promised they would build a contender and build a contender now. I don’t want to have to wait any more than I already have.”
Wait. Wait. Wait. Twenty-four days before, right after his season-ending exit interview, Bryant tells the press he wants to win and win, now. Suddenly, sometime after that ‘someone inside the Lakers organization’ tells Kobe he was set up in the press to publicly take the fall for the Shaquille O’Neal trade.
Which makes Kobe go… Slam. Crazy. Off.
In a whirlwind of radio edicts, radio mandates, phone interview pledges, plaintive wails, condemnations, and straight, ‘to hell with yous’ and capitulations, Bryant loses any semblance of sanity and ruins his entire base of power over everyone even remotely connected with the situation. That power was: I was set up by someone within the Lakers organization, I was a good soldier for three years, I was lied to by the organization, and I want out – Now.
Forward to June 20th.
The latest on Mr. Bryant is that he engaged in a delete-and-cut-and-paste job on his website to reiterate his demand for a trade. Kobe seems to have forgotten that once upon a time two grown-ass men attempted to ruin his lust for greatness in the hopes of molding him into an on-court Step An’ Fetchit sidekick.
Bryant seems to have forgotten that throughout his career the Los Angeles and national sports media has periodically brought out the heavy lumber for use on his psyche – with the sole purpose of ensuring that this black Euro-bred son of a Philly baller knows his place in the pecking order of all things NBA. Kobe seems to have forgotten that he is not, cannot be, and never will be Mike – and is not provided room for error as are many others in his profession.
Today he allowed “them” to knock him out of the box once again.
It is as if, under all the bluster, the on-court grit and will to excel, he is just a petulant 29-year old lacking the “self-moderator” most adults his age at least begin to possess. It is as if, through all the fire – some self-ignited, some arson – he didn’t learn a damn thing about this game called NBA life.
For this transgression, the sports media, fickle as ever, has busted out the 10-pennies and two pieces of solid oak.
Looks like lunch at the Staples Center. The cuisine is Japanese and the main dish is – steak.
The person becomes the persona and the persona is crushing this person.