Bloggin' to the Oldies: Rebirth of Slick
Now that real basketball has up started again (sort of), you might think that resorting to a Bloggin' to the Oldies is unnecessary, but talk of Kobe modifying his role has me reminiscing back to a pivotal moment in Kobe lore: Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers (box score).
Kobe had missed Game 3 and most of Game 2 with a sprained ankle, which was clearly still bothering him on June 14th. For most of regulation, he over-relied on his jump shot, fouled instead of moving his feet on D, and committed some pretty dumb turnovers. He still managed to find ways to help his team, because even at age 21 and feeling gimpy, he was still Kobe Bryant. But as far as the Kobe narrative is concerned, the first 51 minutes are only really relevant for the contrast they provide with the final 2.
Up 3 with a couple minutes left to go in the extra period, Shaq (and his 36 points and 21 boards) fouls out. Kobe gives a cocky grin and drills one over Reggie. Then pulls one of the more swagtastic moves ever, with the "I got this. Keep your cool" gesture that has become synonymous with rising to the occasion. Then proceeds to calmly drill another long 2 over Mark Jackson (shown above) before getting the game-winning tip with 6 seconds to go, putting the Pacers down 3-1.
Revisiting that sequence (which, thanks to the YouTube gods, you can do here), what strikes me most is how stoked Kobe appears that Shaq has fouled out. Phil, Shaq himself, and, most especially, John Salley? All pretty stunned and troubled by the development. Kobe? From the moment the ball's in his hand, clearly relishing the opportunity. I feel like the way this passage of NBA history has generally been interpreted is along similar lines as the "Magic, Starting Center" game: a young player put in a difficult situation, rising to the challenge, and coming up big when it counted most. Comparing the two though, while they were both plenty cocky, Magic at least was a willing participant in the savior-by-circumstance plotline; for Kareem's sake at least, he portrayed himself as thrust into a tough situation and forced to make the best of it. Perhaps I'm projecting too much here, but Kobe's big moment doesn't appear tinged with any of the, "This is a rough spot, but we're going to suck it up and overcome it" attitude that I think fans at the time and since have assumed had to have been underlying the situation.
To be clear, I by no means intend this as a knock on Kobe, nor am I trying to make any bold claims about the Shaq-Kobe dynamic that eventually led to the downfall. I'm strictly interested in this from the perspective of what it says about Kobe and his approach to the game. Even tracing back to his initial championship, it was clear that he was a cold-blooded killer who was dying to take over the game when it counts, without interference. Even losing in Tuesday's preseason game proved to be too much for him to stay confined to the facilitator role when he started jacking up shots in a desperate attempt to one-up Kelenna Azubuike in the 3rd quarter. Bottom line: Kobe might be able to sublimate his instincts for long stretches, but when it comes down to it he will always want to do the jugular-stomping himself, regardless of the circumstance.
While Kobe's maturation may have been the main motivation for revisiting this game, I was also interested if I could glean any insight about Austin Croshere and Derek Fisher's signings to our respective teams. Let me be the first to say: that Austin Croshere can play. How no one gave him a massive deal based exclusively on this playoff series is beyond me. I've already expressed how happy I am about the Fisher signing, but I guess it's worth noting that at age 25 he was a liability guarding Jackson and had to be replaced by the 36-year-old Brian Shaw. Now 33, he'll still be an upgrade from Smush for charges drawn alone, but Lakers fans (myself included) need to exercise caution in nostalgically embellishing his defensive prowess.
Also, I've come to the conclusion that this Pacers team is one of the more underhated teams of all time. I feel like they deserve so much more hatred than they seem to have attracted. Maybe they've been spared eternal scorn because a lot of their heroics came at the expense of the Knicks, but Reggie single-handedly should have made this team one of the most rooted-against teams of the era. What I don't understand, I've heard refs reference "pulling a Reggie," so they were clearly aware of his bullshit, yet he still was rewarded for creating contact in a way that I've never seen prior or since. Mark Jackson, while extremely solid in pretty much every way, would waste half the shot clock every other possession backing people down. Not exciting to watch. Then there's my, perhaps irrational, despise for Rik Smits, who I choose to blame for the devolution of the big man. For some reason I feel like I'd be more forgiving of his brand of oafishness had he been Eastern European rather than Western, but would need someone like Padraig to explain why I might make that distinction. (side note to Pacers fans: having rooted for this team does not prove that you aren't racist)
In other news, I've decided to informally dub the summer of '07 as the Summer of Sam Perkins. First he popped up in a nostalgic Forum Blue & Gold post, then at the always hilarious Blowtorch, before hitting the big time at True Hoop. To top it all off, I think he's showed up in more of NBAtv's "Greatest Games" this summer than any player save Jordan or Pippen. We've watched him with the Lakers, Sonics, and now Pacers, across a 10-year span, pretty much nailing clutch shots regardless of hair style, uniform, or body fat.
At some point later this week look out for my thoughts on what Glen Rice's role on this Laker team might inform us about this year's Celtics.