L.A. eats up another of its young
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Kobe Bryant isn't so hard to understand once you accept a basic premise. He's a child TV star gone wild.

It's really that simple. Once you embrace this concept, Kobe's summer meltdown isn't confusing at all. And that is what we're watching. Kobe is melting down, one $4-million adultery ring, one tattoo, one Jim Gray interview at a time.

This happens all the time to Hollywood child stars. Los Angeles, with its fast lifestyle and even faster women, is hard on everybody, but it is most vicious to its children. Kobe isn't any different than Dana Plato or Todd Bridges or Danny Bonaduce or Scott Schwartz or Jaimee Foxworth, kids swallowed by Sunset Strip.

Kobe Bryant
Would the new Kobe be better off away from L.A.?

The Lakers should trade Kobe. Show him some mercy. With Gary Payton and Karl Malone, the Lakers don't need Kobe. Send him to Milwaukee or Indiana or Utah, somewhere where good women have love handles, silicone-free breasts and appreciate a Blockbuster night, where everyone doesn't have a business card filled with lies, where the fastlane tops out at 70.

I'm serious. What more does Los Angeles need from Kobe? It's stolen his innocence, reaped three championships and hardened his heart. It's time to let Kobe go. The City of (Hell's) Angels nearly destroyed the Lakers' previous child prodigy, Earvin Magic Johnson. It took the HIV virus to slow Magic's roll.

Man, L.A. is unforgiving to its young.

Plato, of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame, knocked off a video store in Vegas, got busted for illegally buying Valium, appeared in the porn flick "Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill ... and Jill" and wound up committing suicide. Bonaduce ("The Partridge Family") turned to drugs, got pinched for cold-cocking a transvestite and went through years of rehabilitation. Bridges ("Diff'rent Strokes" beat an attempted-murder rap, but spent time in the pokey for minor offenses and admitted being hooked on drugs and alcohol. Foxworth ("Family Matters") and Schwartz ("The Toy") both saw action in the porn industry.

Hell, you know the stories. There's no sense in repeating all of them. Child stars are not the most well-adjusted adults. The fame, the money, the freedom, the responsibility and the pressure warp their minds, destroy their natural evolution.

I don't blame Kobe for wanting to opt out of L.A. Kobe can blame everything on Shaq being "childlike," "unprofessional" and "jealous." That doesn't mean we have to buy it. Shaq isn't responsible for Kobe's meltdown.

L.A.'s heat has been dissolving Kobe for years. What's the first calamity that strikes child TV stars? They fall out with their parents. They sue to be emancipated. They sue to get their money.

Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal
Maybe things started going sour after Kobe and Shaq put on those jackets.

Kobe's been headed for trouble ever since stories started circulating that he'd severed his relationship with his parents. Dating and marrying a child when he himself was still immature was another tell-tale sign. Kids mistake a big bank account with being grown. Immature people are in a rush to be grown so they can make all the mistakes that grown folks make.

Kobe wanted to be like Mike. Not just on the court. Kobe wanted the trophy wife, the trophy kids and the trophies on his bedpost. Mike spent three years in college learning "The Game," learning the hustle. When Mike hit the NBA he was a man ready to deal in a man's world. And Mike had the good fortune of landing in Chicago, a tough city, but Pleasantville compared to L.A.

So Kobe is melting down. He doesn't know how to pacify Shaq, the spoiled, lazy, good-natured behemoth who needs honey -- not vinegar -- to bring out his best. Kobe's too full of himself to realize how much he needs Shaq. Go ask Penny Hardaway how much Kobe needs Shaq. Has anybody seen Lil' Penny since Shaq left Orlando?

I'm not suggesting that Shaq is right and Kobe is wrong. I'm suggesting that Kobe can't win this power struggle, and, particularly given his legal troubles, he shouldn't even be waging a public war with Shaq.

But as Kobe melts we're learning he's not very savvy. He tried to fix his marriage with a $4-million ring and a tattoo. I guess the ring and the tatt are supposed to remind teenage hotel clerks that Kobe is off limits. Or maybe they're to remind Kobe. Whatever.

This is all very, very sad. I pray there a few high school superstars watching this NBA soap opera unfold. You might think LeBron James is safe in Cleveland. I'm not so sure. No child is ready for NBA TV. As things develop, we might find out NBA TV is more hazardous to a child's mental health than "Diff'rent Strokes."

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at ballstate68@aol.com.



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