New Steamed Regard
We've told you that THIS IS A LEAGUE OF STARS, so of course the Gilbert/Kobe fireball is tops on our reflective agenda. You also might have heard that THIS IS A LEAGUE OF PSYCHOLOGY, which is why I found myself entranced by Kobe's post-game reaction:
"You tip your hat and say, 'See you next time,'" [Bryant] said. "I don't think he has a conscience. I really don't. He was chucking out there. He took some horrible shots and he made some big ones. I don't get a chance to play him much. I'll be ready next time."
As Brett's noted, there's a surface irony to Kobe questioning anyone else's "conscience." This supposes, however, that it was intended as a swipe at Gil. I think we can all agree that part of what makes Arenas such a joy to watch is that he does lack a basketball conscience. But rather than come off as stubborn or malicious, it's responsible for his rapturous innocence. If Gilbert sometimes make counterintuitive or downright stupid choices on the court, it's not because he's a rebel or an uncoachable cur; that's not him, and anyone with an internet knows this. It's borderline racist to talk about "instinctual basketball," but Arenas really seems to play best when channeling some as-of-yet-unknown hoops muse. It's not the hedonism of id-driven slop, since there's certainly some kind of logic to his play. That Gil travels this wobbly path without hesitation is, without a doubt, the mark of man secure in his ego.
Kobe, on the other hand, has tailored his bones and blood to the structure of the sport. He may frequently flout basketball logic, but even his decadence stinks of rigor. Often, I find myself wondering if Kobe doesn't force the issue only because he feels himself the most basketball human being in existence. My standard LeBron spiel goes something like this: King James has within him the ability to alter the essence of the game on a whim. Then there's Kobe, who has so internalized basketball as we know it, all decades and decades of it, that he flexes its soul with every second he moves. His arrogance, inexcusable as it is, draws its strength from this indentification with the game itself, making him nothing less than the embodiment of the basketball super-ego.
Since I've already dipped into my dime-store Freud bag, I'll spare you the pat Nietzche reference. But in Kobe's comment, I see nothing less than a confrontation with the unknown and possibly unknowable, the absolute antithesis of his raison de baskebtall. That Arenas won the duel is significant, since it forces Bryant to acknowledge him as a peer; Dr. LIC saw condescension in the excess of pronouns, while I feel the shiver of cautionary distance. You got the sense that Kobe had met his babbling, foreign match, that at least for one night, Arenas's mastery of the game surpassd that of Kobe. Were Gilbert a mere gunner, this would be a fluke. Given the heavenly way of Arenas, this represents an ideological shock to Bryant's system.
And so it occurs to Kobe: could one exist without a conscience-driven basketball mind? He sees Arenas play free, loose, and unencumbered, and must accept his legitimacy. Maybe he's stuck on processing this for the rematch, or maybe, just maybe, he wonders if it might be of some use to him.
NOTE THAT DOUBLES AS MY POST HERE ON THE BRAWL: No Mas with an interesting observation/bit of information.