By Sherwood Strauss
Way back when basketball was more like football, Sam Smith wrote “The Jordan Rules“. It was a book about the Detroit Pistons’ quest to ground Air Jordan via physical intimidation. They applied a different set of “rules” so as to hinder MJ’s talents. In contrast, the “Kobe Rules” come from mainstream sports media—not from Bill Laimbeer’s elbow. This dog-eared volume of basketball legalese isn’t designed to reign in Kobe’s talents, either: It’s crafted to exaggerate and emphasize them.
Last night was a good example of why it’s good to a) play for LA and b) take a lot of shots.
At halftime of the Thunder/Lakers game—after having witnessed Lebron James do everything short of tear the United Center apart like Sampson (not the one from Half Baked)—Kenny Smith proclaimed Kobe the best in the league. Barkley rightly dismissed the comments the way my morbidly obese cat dispatches the slow voles who trundle through the garden (No, he didn’t try to eat “Kinny,” though a man can pray). The irony is that Chuck is often depicted as the foolish clown when his NBA acumen has never been sharper. I’d say he and C-Webb are the best national basketball guys, and I don’t even mean it ironically. In the case of Reggie Miller, I totally mean it ironically (I love when Reggie teams up with Marv and the Czar. It’s like being on the bus, watching two old friends endure the ravings of a crazed heroin-addled drifter, as the friends grit their teeth into uncomfortable, impatient grimaces and minutes turn into soul-bleaching hours. Yes, I’ve been riding more SF public transit of late).
My goal here isn’t to rip on Kenny Smith (there are other dead horses to beat and those horses know more about basketball). It’s to point out a simple truth: NBA observers overemphasize scoring at the expense of everything else. I call the theory: “Yay points!”
“Stumbling Upon Wins” a book that shreds sports mythology (which I’ll likely review in these parts) has an academic, erudite espousal of the “Yay points!” thesis. The authors even go so far as to show the correlation between points and salary (it’s almost unrelated to efficiency). Players have an economic incentive to chuck because we tend to forgive their misses and laud their makes.
Taking it all back to that TNT halftime, at that point Bryant had gone five of twelve. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe had some inspired, graceful plays—moments that caused Kenny to state that Bean knew when to be aggressive (shoot). No.8 had proven his greatness somehow, even after a half of poor shooting, because, you know. Later, Kobe ignored a huge mismatch (Gasol was grinding OKC into a mortar), en route to flinging a contested two of ten. Game over.
After the game? It was like none of the misses had ever happened, they’d been erased 1984-style. Long live the Kobe Rules: We only remember his made shots (Those awesome buzzer beaters against Phoenix in the playoffs) and forget his screwups (That awful, guarded Game 6 fadeaway airball that ultimately lost the Phoenix series). It’s good to be Bean.
Right now, Kobe’s not helping the Lakers as much as he could be. And who could blame him? We heap praise on the Bean for freezing teammates out, and selfishly attempting to be a singular force of victory. We cheer when he hits the (contested) game winner, and shrug when he misses.
• I can’t actually believe this is happening, but I’m hearing in many quarters that a Thunder-Lakers upset would top the Warriors-Mavs upset. Really? The Thunder are a 50-win team, led by a top-3 player. The Lakers are a 57-win team, one with a gaping hole at point guard, and no bench. The Dubs were a 42-win team and the Mavs were a 67-win team. The Warriors had no All-Stars, and no one from that team has made an ASG since. Once an upset happens, it seems less shocking over time. But I remember (when I used to sit, in a sports bar, in a government school in Berkeley). No one saw this coming—only Bill Simmons even acknowledged the possibility. Charles Barkley kept predicting a Mavs victory after every Warriors win because it felt like his grasp on reality was slipping into a vortex of spiraling technicolor strobe-lit tunnels, filled with three-headed Stephen Jacksons. It was a shocker. Stop messing with history.