Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: kobe bryant

Dunk of Ages

The moment.

I debated whether to write about Kobe’s dunk, and I just saw Emma Carmichael’s writeup on Deadspin, so I’ll try to be brief. Kobe killed it last night. I don’t typically like him, but last night he was Full Kobe.

The entire arena was behind him, every time he hit or missed a shot. Brooklyn “fans” are just happy to have basketball, and basketball with Kobe is better than basketball without it. There were a lot of Lakers fans. They chanted “M-V-P!” all game. This must happen in every arena Kobe goes to, in some form.

Midway through the third quarter, Kobe crossed over Gerald Wallace, for whom I am told he harbors a long-standing distaste, and hit a jumper, and I jumped out of my seat with thousands of others.

From that point on, every time he got the ball, he was trying to further humiliate Wallace. He took Jordanesque fallaway 25-footers and just missed most of them and blew by Crash, as I am told he is known, at least twice. The game stayed close, and with three minutes left, Kobe pulled Wallace out to half court and I said, out loud, “This isn’t good for Gerald Wallace.” It wasn’t. The Nets expected a pass, not, as Carmichael wrote, young Kobe and a violent dunk. That’s what we got.

I’m 35, just a tick older than Kobe, and my friend Ravi, a lifelong Kobe fan taking in his first Kobe experience, is 34. As a journalist and writer, my career is still beginning. Kobe’s career is not yet in its twilight, but we know it’s coming. I never believed in him before, but he changed my impression in an instant. That dunk was more impressive than his older ones because he had no legs — it was pure practicality. It was 80-80, and it wasn’t just two points. It was: You’re NOT winning this game, and the Nets didn’t. It was a perfect expression of basketball genius, a moment, in the volume business of regular season sports, that changes everything you ever believed.

Note to LeBron: Be Interesting

LeBron James is stealing again. First, he borrowed Michael Jordan’s number. Then he borrowed Kevin Garnett’s playing-with-the-talcum-powder, rotating it a touch so that he tossed into the air and prostrated like Jesus Christ instead of clapping it into the scorer’s table a la Garnett. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, they just show a distinct lack of imagination. That’s understandable for a kid that’s been in the national spotlight since he was 15 years old. He has developed a stable “Superstar” identity, only playing to the masses in controversy-bleached Nike commercials. When would we have expected him to learn about the world, and create some sort of real identity in it? Never, that’s when.

But now LeBron has gone too far. I love him, but if you take him at his word he’s about to make a huge mistake. He’s about to emulate Kobe. Now you might be thinking, “, what’s wrong with emulating Kobe? Isn’t he the World Champion?” He is the World Champion, but that’s not the point. The point is that I hate Kobe, and I like LeBron, and I don’t want LeBron taking cues from Kobe. Especially not this one.

If we take LeBron at his word, LeBron’s going to change his number after the season. He said as much after last night’s game. He said “no one” should wear 23 any more, in honor of Jordan, and he’s wants to make a switch.

Don’t. Do. It.

I know a sportswriter writing in a dark corner of the Internet is unlikely to make him change his mind, but I’m going to try anyway. First, he never would have considered doing this if Kobe hadn’t done it first. That’s just a given. The idea that superstars should change their number for a reason other than it being forced (Ray Bourque, Michael Jordan) simply never existed before Kobe’s self-imposed rebranding. Kobe probably thinks changing his number was part of a growing-up process, but I see it as childish. The point of keeping a number so long is to frame the player behind it, and watch them grow up inside of that frame. It gives every moment context, and gives you a game to play every time you see a highlight. When is that? Oh, that’s when his hair was short, it must be during 2005—before he learned to trust his teammates. Oh wait, he just passed. That’s 2009! He won the title that year? And so on.

Second, it screws over previous jersey owners. Of course, if LeBron changes teams, he’s welcome to change his number to whatever he wants. Once change is in the air, might as well embrace it. Is this a double-standard? Hell yes. But it’s one I like, and this is my blog, so there you go.

The biggest problem, though, is that LeBron’s whole rationale for ths switch is wrong. Michael Jordan isn’t Jackie Robinson, and even in Robinson’s case I think players should be allowed to apply to Major League Baseball to wear number 42, which is currently retired league-wide (Mariano Rivera is grandfathered in. Cue grandfather jokes). Look at soccer. Pele wore number 10, and now anyone who wears that number is associated with his greatness. It’s an honor, and one that doesn’t get bestowed lightly. We can do the same thing with number 23. Hell, LeBron, you already did.

I get it: you want your own identity now. You want to transcend Jordan. Here’s what you do then: instead of paying lip service to how great Jordan is, come out at say it. Say “I want to be better than him.” Throw down the gauntlet. Say you don’t want to wear number 23 because you don’t want to overshadow him, not because you want to honor him. Say something interesting. For once.

We know it’s what you’re thinking.