When did it happen?
Not the 81 points. Not the 51 he dropped last week in Sacramento. Not the game against Dallas, where he outscored the Mavericks 62-61 through three quarters before not playing in the fourth.
None of that.
It needs to be known when it happened. When did something inside Kobe Bryant snap? When did he get so angry that he decided to take it out on the court? At what point did he reach that point? That point of no return. That Tupac point. He against the world.
Was it the Mike Miller moment? Is that where we begin this? Is it that game against Memphis, when Miller gave Kobe one shot to the dome that opened up a Manny Pacquiao cut above Kobe's left eye? Is that when Kobe lost it? Because ever since that game, ever since he got suspended for two games by the league for a blow-to-the-throat retaliation, Kobe Bryant has lost his *&%#@ mind.
Or was it before that? The game before that Dallas game. The game that he said made him sick. The one the Lakers lost. When they scored only 74 points against Houston on Dec. 18. Kobe was scoring 31.3 points per game, trailing Iverson, who was averaging 33.4 at the time, and there was little discussion of a scoring race.
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Maybe that's when that something else entered his body. Taking it over. Linda Blairing it. Making him the simultaneous combination of Jordan, Baylor and King. Making us see things we've never seen before; making us watch Lakers games that last year we'd totally dismiss for "Nip/Tuck" or "Grey's Anatomy."
Was it after he sprained his wrist in the game against LeBron in the first quarter, then made himself hit the final eight points to win the game? Was it when AI came to town and he knew a casual 40 was not going to be enough? The game when before the tip he said ultra-sarcastically, "Oh, so this is a [scoring] race?"
Or was it at halftime of this last game? The one when Lamar Odom said, "He was ticked off." Was that when it all came out? Made him straight lose control and empty 81 rounds on a team so bad that former Georgetown coach John Thompson said on his radio show that if Wilt Chamberlain played against that Raptors team he'd have scored 200 points.
To pinpoint the time is essential to understanding why Kobe Bryant is doing what he is doing. In order to get a grasp, to get some type of comprehension of what is really going on, we need to know when -- when! -- did Kobe get so heated at the world that he decided to take his frustrations out on the game of basketball?
|Kobe '06 vs. Jordan '87|
|How does Kobe's 2006 season compare to Michael Jordan's 1987, when MJ scored his career-high 37.1 points per game?|
|Team W pct.||.537||.488|
|TS pct.= true shooting percentage (what a player's shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers)|
Because until we get to that point, we may not appreciate exactly what it is he's really doing. Until we discover that day, none of us are going to truly understand what this vengeance of his is all about.
Eighty-one in the same season that he scored 62 in three quarters -- with two other 50-point games (so far).
Brotha's mad about something.
He has become "Must-See-TV." Alone, win or lose, Kobe Bryant has made it essential that we not miss him play a game of basketball this season.
The Lakers versus the Raptors? Whatever. The Lakers against the Kings? Two years ago, maybe. The Lakers are playing the Mavericks? Cool, homey. I'll catch the highlights on "SportsCenter."
That was the apathy.
There were more things important than watching Kobe Bryant chuck up shots while the other nine guys on the floor stood around watching the shot clock.
Even the great Spike Lee, after a game against the Knicks, said he couldn't watch it anymore. I think his words to me after that game were, "That's not basketball."
He was right. But there were glimpses of it being something you didn't want to miss.
Even in the arrogance of a 9-for-33 night in San Antonio on Nov. 29, when Bryant belligerently said his "missed shots provided shot opportunities for his teammates off the offensive boards," you could sense in Bernie Mac-ology that "something different was goings on."
For better or worse, richer or broke, wins or losses, it made you want to pay attention to what may happen next in the book of Kobe.
And this is what Jerry Buss had in mind when he made the decision to keep No. 8. It wasn't about winning games or getting another ring or embarrassing Shaq or Phil. From a business standpoint, all Buss wanted to do was make the Lakers relevant, make us want to pay attention to everything that happened inside the Staples Center, make us never want to miss a game.
|81 Ain't Nothing|
|Kobe Bryant's 81-point game was the second-highest in NBA history, but as Jeff Merron points out, the NBA isn't the only league. From Bevo Francis' 113 for Rio Grande College to Cheryl Miller's 105 in a high school girls to somebody named John Barber scoring 188 in college game, we have a list of some of the highest-scoring hoopsters in history.|
It was a "watch a car wreck on the 110 or watch a Bentley roll slow down Crenshaw" mentality. Either way, Buss wanted our attention. And he had the guy who was going to grab it.
He wanted Kobe to deliver that to him last year. Kobe didn't. The shots weren't falling.
But this year, the Bentley is pushing 120 mph on the Santa Monica Freeway. Kobe's making Buss look like a genius.
Michael used to do this. The same thing.
One of the things that Jordan used to do was invent drama to get himself mad so he'd have something to take out on whoever was guarding him that particular night. Or whatever team. Most nights he didn't need to create the pseudo-press clippings to get him started, but every now and then he'd turn a non-compliment into a spit in his face. And for 48 minutes (or however long he was able to hold on to that self-inflicted contempt -- sometimes it lasted for days or months) he had you in front of him, doubting him, hating him. He had you. At his mercy.
Kobe is doing the same thing but only bigger. In almost never missing a game of Kobevison this year, I've noticed a similar tactic of motivation, but to a degree that $ never dared go.
MJ wanted to be loved; KB could care less.
Kobe has decided to pit himself against the world, not just those he's playing basketball against. Kobe has made himself believe that the entire world is against him. Players, coaches, GMs, media, fans, friends, strangers. All are out to get him, all are waiting for his downfall. That, as one magazine secretly wanted to publish, he is "the most hated athlete in the world."
To me, right now, this is what Kobe Bryant believes.
This has become his motivation.
He doesn't hear "MVP" when the Lakers crowd is chanting. He probably hears, "We hate he," or "Kobe leave," or "You ain't Thee."
When Greg Anthony or Marc Stein says he's the best player alive, Kobe somehow hears LeBron's name instead. He hears Tim Duncan's name instead, or Dwyane Wade's.
The McDonald's slogan to him is, "We Hatin' You." The Wal-Mart smiley face is a frown when he watches television. He can't -- won't -- push the Easy button.
He's probably already taken Vince Carter's comments about the effect these 81 points will have on kids ("The only bad thing about it is that younger kids, whose minds are easily warped, are going to think, 'Ohhh! I am going to go out there and do it instead of [honoring] the team concept first," Carter told the Newark Star-Ledger. "That is what is missing in the game, guys understanding how to play as a team.") so personal that when the Lakers play the Nets on March 17, VC might want to come up with another 'injury' so that Kobe doesn't break Wilt's other record on him.I'll take it eight steps further: I'll say that everything in Kobe's life (outside of what went down inside of that Colorado hotel room) since he missed those shots against the Jazz in the playoffs his rookie year has been a calculated move to make the world despise him. He can take out his anger, his frustrations -- self-inflicted as they may be -- on not just the defenders and teams he faces, but against the game he loves so much just to show the world how wrong we've been about him.
Think about it. Watch five games.
He's turned the game into another sport. What he's playing is not basketball, but something closer to golf. Not in that he's playing alone, but he's playing against the game itself, as opposed to an opponent. Trust me, Kobe doesn't see the Mavs, the Kings or the Raptors when he's out there anymore. He sees that black cloud that's on "Lost." He sees the F.A.M.E. tattoo on Iverson's back that stands for "F--- All My Enemies." He sees the anti-Kobe.
That's why he's doing things no one has ever seen before.
He sees hate.
So what are you going to do now?
Are you going to miss another Lakers game this season? Is "k-o-b-e b-r-y-a-n-t" going to be highlighted on your TiVo menu listing?
Over the last 10 games he's averaged 45.5. For the season, he's at 35.9. As ri-dope-ulous as that is, it's still less than the 37.1 Jordan averaged in 1987.
But even in that season, was Jordan this spectacular? Did Jordan have us on flat-screen lockdown like this? Rearranging our schedules, canceling vacations, thanking a higher power than David Stern that we don't have to chose between Kobe and the Super Bowl this year. Knowing that on any given February he may make history again.
Did Jordan ever send us through something like this?
Was Jordan ever this angry?
Kobe gets to rest four days before he has to come back and continue this. Four days to hear how much the world hates him. He said he'd have been "sick to his stomach" if the Lakers had lost that game against the Raptors. Golden State should feel blessed.
But a funny thing happened one night on the way to the Staples. A teammate's compliment was made public. Lamar Odom recently said, "It's like God put Kobe here for us to watch him play basketball."
I wonder how Kobe took it. I wonder what went through Kobe's mind when he heard about it. I wonder what Kobe's interpretation was of it.
I wonder was that when it happened?
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.