Catching up on Kobe Bryant stories, Andrew Bynum's offseason
As I hung out by the beach, I heard about Kobe Bryant making a surprise appearance in the Drew League.
As I ran on the elliptical machine at the gym, I heard about Bryant apparently getting upset over someone trying to take pictures of him at church.
As I caught up with friends over dinner and drinks, I heard that Bryant's interest in playing in China might not work out as originally planned.
As I hung out with Manhattan Beach at a local nightspot, I spotted Luke Walton enjoying dinner with friends. I thought I'd approach him and express kind words for his involvement with Bryant and Derek Fisher in donating part of the playoff shares and other gifts to some of the Lakers' staff that were let go during the NBA lockout. But everyone should enjoy their privacy.
As I washed my car, I heard about Andrew Bynum's honesty regarding the Lakers' shortcomings and his continuous refusal to address reports of him illegally parking in handicapped spaces.
Yup, even if I was on vacation during the dog days of the NBA offseason, there never lacks for Lakers stories, leaving me with time to catch up on a few developments.
Kobe Bryant's Drew League appearance: Everything about his surprise appearance in the Drew League on Tuesday captured Bryant well. He asked Drew League officials to keep it a secret, though that part didn't really work out. He dropped 43 points, including the game-winner. And his mobility and quickness suggested that this offseason has helped his injured body.
There was no tape on the fingers. There were no sleeves on the knees," Drew League Commissioner Oris "Dino" Smiley said in a phone interview. "He seemed very spry and he had a lot of bounce in his step. He looked very good. He was playing against guys that were going at him and that’s what he wanted."
Even so, it'd be wrong to suddenly think that Bryant's concerns over his body are no longer warranted. Competitive game or not, this doesn't have a direct correlation to how Bryant will hold up physically in the 2011-12 season. It's at least encouraging to see Bryant isn't hobbling around, but touting his Drew League appearance as evidence he'll have an injury-free season constitutes a huge leap of faith. Still, Smiley seemed to disagree with my premise.
"The rest has done him well," Smiley said. "I think he’ll have a very strong season if a season comes. He’ll have a strong year. He looked good. It was a competitive game. It wasn’t a celebrity showcase; it was guys going at each other."
Bryant's alleged tussle at church: More details will emerge out of this case, as Times reporter Tony Perry has updated the story frequently. But it's safe to say this regarding the alleged dustup Bryant had with a young man he reportedly thought was taking cellphone pictures of him while worshipping at a San Diego church: I hold the man taking the pictures more at fault than whether Bryant overreacted. There's a pretty easy code of conduct out here in Hollywood when dealing with celebrities. When they're out in a public setting, feel free to approach them. They know the drill. When they're out in a restaurant, allow them to have a meal in privacy and make the stargazing as inconspicuous as possible. And if they're in a church, don't even think about it. Certainly, no one deserves to have their wrist sprained over such an incident. But Bryant had every right to feel upset.
Will Bryant play in China? The Times' Baxter Holmes reported earlier this offseason that Bryant may be part of a barnstorming tour in which Rob Pelinka's clients at the Landmark Sports Agency would play in a series of exhibition games in China. We've almost come full circle with this, as China's offer to pay Bryant $1.5 million a month to play overseas won't really work out because the Chinese Basketball Assn. doesn't want to sign NBA players with opt-out clauses. So instead, Shanxi Zhongyu is reportedly interested in signing Bryant for exhibition appearances, or even for just appearing in lay-up lines.
As much as this venture speaks more to branding and self-promotion than actual basketball, the last thing Bryant needs is to play on a competitive team where he's jeopardizing his body. He's never going to close off offers because it goes against his basketball instincts and he's surely aware that could give him some type of leverage in pressuring the league to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. But as tacky as it sounds, Laker fans should hope Bryant's only basketball appearances this lockout come in the form of Nike signs and warmups.
Laker players should be lauded for donating part of playoff share to displaced employees. As detailed by The Times' Mike Bresnahan, Bryant and Fisher voted as co-captains to give some of their playoff shares to Chris Bodaken and Patrick O'Keefe, two members of the Lakers' video department whose contracts were not renewed after the season. Walton also gave an undisclosed amount of individual financial gifts to members of the training staff. Obviously, this hardly dampens the players' plush salaries, but it was a genuinely great gesture. Allowing Bodaken and O'Keefe to split about $65,000 of the Lakers' playoff share will surely go a long way in helping them handle their finances.
The Lakers have the right to operate as they see fit in maximizing their bottom line. But even with a uncertain lockout, the Lakers recent 20-year agreement with Time Warner Cable surely suggests they could've kept the approximately 20 employees they laid off, including assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, four of the team's five athletic trainers and almost the entire scouting staff. It simply would've been the classy move to make. Thankfully the players didn't forget about their contributions.
Andrew Bynum shows a mixed bag in maturity. In an interesting interview with The Times' Lance Pugmire, Bynum provided both signs that he's in line for a great upcoming season (if there is one) and that he still lacks maturity and perspective.
It's encouraging for Laker fans to hear about Bynum taking up boxing lessons, learning Spanish and speaking frankly about the team's lack of a work ethic last season. It shows that Bynum's taking his basketball development seriously. But it's ridiculous to read Bynum refuse to address and apologize for illegally parking in handicapped spots at least twice. No prepared statement or forced apology will justify Bynum's actions, but his refusal to discuss the incident reeks of insincerity and only will inflame the anger many disabled people justifiably feel about Bynum's entitled attitude.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant goes up for a reverse dunk during an exhibition game against Filipino players in Quezon City on July 23. Credit: Dennis M. Sabangan / European Pressphoto Agency
Photo: Andrew Bynum runs sprints during a training session at UCLA on Friday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times