Eight figure puncture

After a week in which I both watched the Lakers put in work live and stereo (even more pock-marked than on television), and saw the Heat convincingly put them away in the fourth quarter, I'm officially ready to join the Greek chorus of pundits writing off their season. The Jordan analogy just won't work here; that team is barely coached, and the personel aren't put together to flow around Kobe in an orderly fashion. Odom is the basketball equivalent of bright, wrestling vampires, but can't reliably make a lay-up, and doesn't remember how well he worked as a Swiss Army 4 in Miami last season. Other than the two of them, it's nothing but a watered-down version of the supporting cast of the Lakers dyansty, minus the guts, experience, and willingness to recognize that swinging the ball around in search of an open three is only one feature of an offense.

What's more fascinating is the abrupt shift Kobe's making from anti-hero--a heel of WWF proportions—to tragic hero. We know too much about Kobe to ever think of him as noble, or open, or even someone you'd want to meet. But in the realm of basketball, it's become clear that he's a fighter who has been given nothing to work with, like Iverson between the Finals year and this one. And if anything, Kobe's looking uneasy and off-kilter because the team is forcing him to play undisciplined and ragged--remember, Bryant, like MJ, thrived on his own efficiency and discipline, on the court and off. As much as he chafed at the triange, it gave him room to create while encouraging economy of movement and well-timed, dramatic outbursts. This season, with nothing going and the sky falling around him, he's forced to force it, if you can believe a sentence that ridiculous sounding. He's far from perfect, and has been proven human in all the worst ways possible; the emperor's clothes are gone, but the show must go on. And damnit, playing naked is an ugly, terrifying thing for someone of Kobe's talent, as there's no state of grace to be found. He's trying to gut it out, and do too much to make it work—not because he wants to, but because, quite honestly, nothing will happen on that team unless he takes it upon him to do everything. This may have been what he wanted all along, what we castigated him for back in June. But now he's learned his lesson, realized the price, and is actually kind of taking his lumps—and his lessons of humility—like a man.

Webber deserves mention here, too. For me, he is even more unjustly persecuted, largely because his problems seems as much personal, and prior to his life as a professional athlete. Webber probably shouldn't even be a basketball player, tempermentally speaking, and I'm inclined to qualify everything he does as one with this. His relationship with the media, the fans, and his teammates. . . at times, all have embodied the best and worst the NBA can be, perhaps better and worse than they could be for a more average human being. From the time-out to Tyra, Webber has been larger than life, but consistently dragged down by his refusal to admit it. He may have been a reluctant anti-hero early on, but for me he's been the epitome of tragic as he's grown up but his place in the basketball world has remained largely intact.

That's why the current Sixers unrest seems, if nothing else, a good thing for Webber. Teamed with Iverson, mythology with a deadly first step and corn rows, he was ready to (better late than ever), be a superstar. The city was ready for it, and lord knows AI expected it. Hopefully, O'Brien will be gone by summer, Mo Cheeks will come in, and Webber can finish out his career with one, last redemptive installment of his quizzical saga. Now if only Sixers fans would realize that it's Obie, not Webber, who's forcing the most elliptic All-Star of an era into his well-established pattern of evasion, brooding, and internalized issues.


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