March 11, 2011
As Mr. Dwyer noted in today's Behind the Box Score, Kobe Bryant(notes) spent an hour after last night's loss in Miami taking shots on the main court at American Airlines Arena. Please note that the arena also has a full-size practice court, complete with rims, accurate line markings, and everything, so it's not as if Kobe had to do this in full view of reporters who could breathlessly update his status in real time on Twitter.
Reaction has not been very positive. In most eyes, Kobe was doing this for the attention, attempting to prove to everyone that he's so committed to winning that he'll shoot for an hour after a regular-season loss on the road to one of the best teams in the league. This plan backfired, naturally, and all anyone can talk about now is that he made the event staff stay late for selfish reasons when he very easily could have done this on his own out of the spotlight.
This take is very accurate: Kobe acted like a jerk here. He also his typically bizarre combination of recognizing the importance of the media while simultaneously having no idea how to handle the limelight properly. It's a trait he shares with Alex Rodriguez, and not just because both men don't know what a normal fashion spread looks like.
The craziest thing about this story is that Kobe's alleged aims were already accomplished long ago. Kobe has earned widespread attention as the most committed player in the league for years now, even if that determination has often been described as something between focus and psychosis. Kobe doesn't need to shoot for an hour after practice because everyone already knows he's a perfectionist -- this is somewhat akin to film director David Fincher doing 150 takes of a single scene because no one would think he got what he really wanted if he only did 100 of them.
Yet it may be unfair to assume that Kobe is completely clueless about his reputation. Perhaps he actually did shoot on the main floor at the arena because he didn't know there was a full practice court, or maybe he didn't want to wait for someone to open it because he wanted to start practicing as early as possible. That may seem like an unreasonable course of action for someone who had just played 40 minutes in a high-pressure game, but no one ever said Kobe approaches these matters with the logic of a detached observer.
Plus, even if Kobe didn't act entirely honorably in this case, the fact remains that he took shots for an hour after a loss. Fans and media often ask basketball stars -- like, I don't know, LeBron James(notes) -- to focus less on celebrity and more on their craft. Kobe did that in a decidedly bizzare fashion, but he still did it. Does he only deserve distasteful mockery? After all, the man did what we supposedly want to see from the best basketball players in the world.
Again, I don't think Kobe is without fault here -- he drew as much attention as possible when other perfectly legitimate options existed. But even if he tried to play the media, he also proved himself to be extremely committed to the betterment of his own play. As with most Kobe-related stories, the negative and positive reactions to his actions both seem perfectly valid. Which, not surprisingly, means that the best way to discuss his late-night shooting practice probably lies somewhere between the two.