As spring follows winter, after Kobe-mania comes the anti-Kobe backlash.
Nobody rides for free, nobody gets it the way they want it. It happened to Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal and it's happening to Kobe Bryant.
Karl Malone and Charles Barkley grumbled about the league-and-network sponsored coronation at the All-Star game and Kobe's shot-happy response. George Karl, who coached the West, has since suggested it was because of veterans' grumbling he didn't put Bryant back in to shoot it out with Jordan for the MVP.
Malone said his problems started when he set a screen for Bryant, who waved him out of the way to go one-on-one.
"I went to set a pick and the guy told me he's got it," Malone said later. "Like I told Coach Karl, `Hey, when younger guys are telling me, `Get out of the way,' that's a game I don't need to be in.' I was (upset)."
Barkley, watching on TV, said the problem started earlier than that, when NBC began thumping Kobe's tub.
"Jim Gray almost made me (sick) last week, talking about passing torches and that sort of thing," Barkley said. "Kobe Bryant is a nice kid and he's got a lot of talent. He's not a great player. He's exciting. But he's not near the player Eddie Jones is. ...
"I was embarrassed. ... I thought they already had passed that torch to Grant Hill three years ago."
What can one say but ... they're right?
The hype, perhaps exaggerated in its New York setting, was almost hysterical, beyond anything seen before. Bryant was a relative innocent in the process, but he didn't run away from it, as 11 shots in his first 13 touches, off the charts for going it alone, suggest.
For better and worse, it's Kobe's audacity that separates him from the others anointed to succeed you-know-whom, only to prove they weren't The One. Hill is too nice to thirst for domination. Penny Hardaway's sensitive soul and frail body keep betraying him; he's more like a great player's friend, which is what he was in his best seasons alongside Shaq.
It's no surprise they picked Bryant. They're in sales and he's a golden child, with more high-flying game than he or anyone can control. They exploited him, which is what they do. He went along, because he isn't yet sure there's anything he can't do.
The problem for the Los Angeles Lakers is, the same process is sure to go on -- or is going on -- among them.
It was one thing for teammates to smile at Kobe's excesses before the world became a bee-line, zooming past them to fall to its knees before him. The end of that Seattle loss -- Bryant missing a three with a defender all over him, overlooking an open Nick Van Exel, Van Exel punching the air in anger -- may have been emblematic.
To his credit, Bryant seemed to rein himself in last week. In two games, he took 18 shots and had 11 assists. Before that, his average was 5.4 shots per assist.
Jordan inspired an actual veterans' conspiracy in his first All-Star game, for nothing more than wearing his Nike warmups, reminding them he had a big endorsement deal when nobody else did. That was nothing compared to the laurels placed upon the brow of the young Bryant. If the league had tried that at the '85 game, Isiah Thomas and the guys might have kidnapped Jordan and held him for ransom.
The hype they have these days doesn't just warp, it maims. No one wants to let this kid grow up but everyone -- league, networks, Laker players, Laker fans -- will have to.
The path to the kind of greatness he aspires to is never, ever smooth and this was just one of the bumps.
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