There is no denying Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player. And there’s no deny that nobody knows that better than Kobe Bryant. When it comes to an opinion of oneself in the pecking order of NBA royalty, Kobe makes Michael Jordan look like a self-deprecator. (“What? Me, great? Aw, shucks …”)
Despite all his rings and all his stats, Kobe still feels unappreciated.
He’s especially upset about the 2005-07 years – the lean years – when he reminds anyone who will listen how (1) he twice dragged the dead carcass of the Lakers to the playoffs and (2) how he should have been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player instead of Steve Nash – then with the Phoenix Suns but inexplicably now his Laker teammate.
So now that Nash is within daily earshot, it didn’t take much time – or prodding – for Kobe to harken back to the days when Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown and his favorite target of disdain, point guard Smush Parker, were a waste of space.
They forced Kobe to carry the team and allowed Nash to steal an award that should be on his weigh-challenged mantle.
“I tell Steve, ‘You won MVP but I was playing with Smush Parker’ … Smush Parker was the worst,” Bryant told reporters this week. “He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on.
“I’m taking 45 shots a game. What was I supposed to do, pass the ball to Chris Mihm? Chris Mihm?”
Wow. I take it the 10th anniversary barbeque in 2016 is out?
Now playing basketball in China (yeah, that sounds about right), Parker was appraised of Bryant’s comments and was totally … not surprised. That’s Parker basically said what Kobe says now isn’t anything he didn’t say to his face when they shared a locker room.
“You can’t knock the man’s legacy; you can’t knock what he’s done in basketball. His work ethic is tremendous. “What I don’t like about him is the man that he is. His personality. How he treats people. I don’t like that side of Kobe Bryant,” Smush offered up on a radio interview reprinted by dimemag.com.
“Midway through the first season, I tried to at least have a conversation with Kobe Bryant — he is my teammate, he is a co-worker of mine, I see his face every day I go in to work — and I tried to talk with him about football. He tells me I can’t talk to him. He tells me I need more accolades under my belt before I come talk to him. He was dead serious.”
Parker recalled before one of the two playoff series the Lakers lost to the Suns (2006 and 2007), Lakers coach Phil Jackson gave forward Lamar Odom his credit card for a team bonding dinner. He said there were two tables at the restaurant – one for the Lakers and one for Kobe. Have fun in Los Angeles, Nash Rambler.
For a guy who believes so much in aura and team unity, this might be one rocky ride, karma-wise, especially once Kobe determines which teammates aren’t worth his time.
Bring on the Ducks
So, how much of a killjoy would I be if I pointed out that last season, Arizona State was 5-1 after six games under Dennis Erickson – and that record included home wins over Missouri and USC – heading into a mid-October meeting with the mighty Oregon Ducks?
Yeah, OK. Never mind then.
The good news?
•This team certainly feels completely different, although its resumé isn’t as shiny as the 2011 team considering the conference wins (Utah, Cal and Colorado) are a combined 2-6 in Pac-12 play.
•It’s certainly better coached, although some cuteness in Columbia against Missouri by those wearing headsets is the only reason ASU isn’t undefeated and ranked in the top 15 by now.
•It’s certainly more disciplined, although there was nowhere to go but up after the thug-like tactics allowed by the former regime.
•It’s certainly better defensively – no qualifications there. More results, less drama.
So here we go. The Devils have the athletes. They will have a crowd approaching 70,000 on their side in Tempe for the nationally televised battle with the mighty Ducks. And they have an approach that makes them very hard to control.
But ASU is only six games into a system under Todd Graham, while the Ducks have perfected theirs over the six years under Chip Kelly. ASU’s athleticism on defense will be the key to the game. Both teams will score – a lot.
The question is: Have the Devils become good enough, quick enough, fast enough, to keep up with a BCS title contender?
One thing is for sure – Sun Devil Stadium is THE place to be on Thursday night. Win or lose, how good is it to finally say that again?
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.