Kobe's Pissed Off
I know this, because he said so.
As one might have guessed, the buzz around today's practice- Aside from the team's collective health, which now features Lamar Odom and Luke Walton ready to play but Brian Cook expecting to miss at least three games- was Phil Jackson's comments that the NBA, via retroactive reviews, suspensions and fines, was making Kobe Bryant the focus of a witch hunt. Jackson's remarks are now under league review, but unlike the player he's defending, the Zen Master doesn't expect he'll be forced to write the NBA a check. "That doesn't even enter the equation in my mind, that (it) would happen. Fines are about officiating and directly talking about officials in a personal way, in a way that undermines the game. This isn't about officiating at all." In fact, he doesn't even expect to hear back from anyone in the office. "They like it," explained Jackson. "They know there's got to a corrective person out there who speaks the truth."
Not quite sure if Jackson was being sarcastic about David Stern's deep appreciation of his searing honesty, but either way, I chuckled.
Kobe declined to get into whether he was literally getting the John Proctor treatment. "I just want to play basketball. I don't want to comment and say anything inflammatory that'll create any distraction." That said, he definitely appreciated Jackson offering a few distracting words on his behalf. "It feels good knowing you have somebody in your corner." And he was definitely willing to share in no uncertain terms his feelings about his "dirtiness" being examined in the first place. "It's insulting. I don't need to be a dirty player." Told the topic was fodder for Dan Patrick's radio show this morning, Kobe's expression was one of disgust. "It's just ridiculous. I'm not a dirty player. Never have been, never will be." It's not about being scrutinized, mind you. Hell, you wanna put Kobe's game under the microscope, have at it, just as long as it doesn't get absurd. "If somebody wants to criticize me or the way I play on the basketball court, at least make it something that's at least somewhat realistic," insisted Bryant. "Say I shoot too much, you know what I mean? But don't just knock something that I'm absolutely not."
In discussing this topic, I've said before (and some of you agree, some disagree) that there's now an onus on Kobe, whether fair or unfair, to be mindful of his physicality, because the consequences have been made perfectly clear. So has Kobe began watching himself with his mind's eye? "You think about that a little bit. At least now. I don't want to have that image of being a dirty player. Be a little mindful of that, not to the point where I'll be thinking about it (too heavily)." But even having to think about it at all is something he'd never done before. "Why would I," he wondered. I asked Bryant if he had a sense of what it would take to shift the focus away from the bone connecting his forearms and biceps. He wasn't positive, but ventured an idea: Stop his team's bleeding. "People get tired of saying you suck, so they kind of want something else to talk about." Thus, winning really is the cure-all.
When asked if his team captain was a dirty player, Luke Walton's face grew quizzical at the mere idea. "He's not dirty at all," insisted the now-healthy small forward, who PJ figured would start tomorrow if for no other reason than to keep his ankle from stiffening. "He's a very aggressive player. He wants to win at all costs, but he's not out to injure people." Walton reminded us how Bryant constantly helps up players whom he may have knocked down. And by "players," Walton also meant "teammates." "He hits us with elbows (in practice) all the time," said Walton with a casual shrug and nary a hint of resentment. "It's basketball. It's part of the game. I know they're trying to clean it up, but you can't just start calling someone dirty because he's playing the way he's always played." And having watched his old man play in an era where some of these "controversial" hits wouldn't even be considered fouls, Walton has a hard time seeing what the problem is. "I remember watching games in Boston where Parrish would punch Lambeer and they'd both finish the game." Besides, in Walton's opinion, a dirty player is a guy who has to resort to such tactics to compensate for a lack of skills.
Say what you want about Kobe, but he's rarely been accused of sucking.
Odom, who figured he'd be capable of playing his normal minutes tomorrow, seconded the notion that Kobe's clean as they come. "People are making a big deal about nothing." As for whether or not the witching hour is indeed upon us, LO smiled, then gave a polite "no comment." "That's PJ," laughed Odom, noting how it's easier for a guy with 10 rings to speak his mind in uncensored fashion. I asked LO if he'd be willing to publicly revisit that question once he's got a little bling of his own. Yeah, no worries. "Maybe I can talk crazy a little bit," said Odom with a sly smile.