Posted by Neil Paine on June 16, 2009
Apropos of our little Kobe debate in the comments of another post, ESPN.com's own Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, has written a piece that I think perfectly sums up my feelings on Kobe, the Lakers, and the entire experience that the media gave us in these playoffs (especially during the Finals):
"Announcers and studio guys speak in sound bites. They have to be ready to say something interesting as soon as the host looks at them and says, 'What do you think?' For instance, Jon Barry told us after Sunday night's game that Kobe is the closest thing to Michael Jordan that any of us will ever see.
I haven't even turned 40 years old. I have half my life left, if not more. You're telling me I won't see another hyper-competitive, super-athletic 2-guard average 30-plus a game and win an NBA title? (Hell, I just saw it three years ago with Dwyane Wade -- a performance that, by the way, surpassed Kobe's effort this month.) I found the constant stream of Kobe-related hyperbole to be a little off-putting; it was like hearing a buddy self-consciously mention how cool his girlfriend was so many times that it made you wonder, 'Wait, is something going on here? It's almost like he's trying to convince himself every time he brings it up.' (emphasis mine)
For two solid months, my readers kept asking why the media played up tired Kobe-related storylines at the expense of anything else that might have been interesting. (By the Finals, even a two-minute 'Check out Adam Morrison on the Lakers bench, what an insane fall for the No. 3 pick of the 2006 draft, this has to be bittersweet' discussion would have been better than hearing how NOBODY UNDERSTANDS HOW GREAT KOBE BRYANT IS for the 350th time.) The simple answer is that the networks gravitate toward angles they think casual viewers like my mom or your 82-year-old uncle want to hear. The complicated answer is that you can't explain all the reasons why the 2009 Lakers were better than the 2008 Lakers in one sentence. Fortunately, that's why I'm here.
They had the second-best player in the league (Kobe), the second-best center (Pau Gasol), a talented forward with a unique set of skills (Lamar Odom), a breakout swingman (Trevor Ariza), a terrific leader and character guy at point (Derek Fisher), and that's about it. They caught three breaks from February on -- Kevin Garnett's knee injury killing Boston's season, Cleveland stupidly opting not to move Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract for one more piece, and Yao Ming breaking his foot in Round 2 -- and cruised from there. You would not call them great, just very good. I would compare them to the 2003 Spurs, 2005 Spurs or 2006 Heat -- the cream of a flawed crop of contenders.
Did they deserve to win the title? Of course. But they didn't win because Kobe 'really wanted this' and 'trusted his teammates' and 'finally figured it out' and all that revisionist crap."