They're Sharp Cause I'm Smiling

So I've been sifting through Kobe's website after True Hoop asserted that it would make people like KB24. Especially in the video Henry linked to, something becomes clear: Kobe Bryant is boring. But not in the standard athlete-talks-to-media way. Kobe is most comfortable as a professional dad with concrete pursuits and a faint echo of well-earned leisure. It's not remarkable, but, at the risk of bringing up Arenas, it's certainly "knowable." I remember a commentor claiming that the pathological Kobe is the real thing, and this new incarnation is a put-on. That presumes, though, that genuine awkwardness is always going to be more awkward than genuine. Certainly, when the single-minded prodigy grows up, he can't altogether shed the shape of his soul. What he can do, however, is make peace with it, and mobilize it in the service of the utterly congenial and ordinary.

Here's a munchkin for you: why do we embrace Obama's somewhat mannered personality, while insisting that with Kobe, it's cynical persona? Both wear their intelligence, their impeccability, and their hygiene on their sleeves, while emphasizing their right to be loose within this. And yet one is seen as the most authentic politician in ages, while another is continually labeled the Great Deceiver of sports. I know athletes aren't politicians—if nothing else, the public craves authentic candidates, while in sports these complaints can quickly morph into a thug-hunt. But isn't Kobe a different kind of athlete, one for whom public life isn't a non-stop culture war? And at the risk of blasphemy, doesn't Kobe's steez offer a better template for Obama's image than other Senators do?

Ask yourself this: if the Kobe in that video weren't talking basketball, and his face hadn't become a visual cue for hatred, why wouldn't he be electable?

ADDENDUM BEFORE MORNING: This post was meant to merely point out that there's a similar structure to who we know them to be, but that they're seen as polar opposites in terms of authenticity. However, since people seem to want to take it far more literally, I'll bite: Kobe's Colorado problems (and franchise-murdering) are dark occupational hazards of being a star athlete, just as cocaine was for up-and-coming professionals in the eighties. Granted, one involves another person and the other is purely a decision about the self. Still, I could see them cast similarly as missteps that made a man realize where he really fit in. Except in Obama's case, this is taken as the height of candor; when Kobe hints at it, we scoff at it as spin.


At 3/07/2007 8:05 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Here's a munchkin for you: why do we embrace Obama's somewhat mannered personality, while insisting that with Kobe, it's cynical persona?

Because we saw Kobe's earlier incarnations, which weren't always pretty, pre-Colorado even, while Barry Obama's doings at HLS were not broadcast in HD.

It may not be fair, but there it is.

At 3/07/2007 8:12 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

right, but can't you make a convincing case that kobe's used his negative experiences as a way to get past shit that other athletes might not (womanizing, egoism)? not saying it's true. . . but it's a version of things that distinguishes him and makes that past into a talking point.

like obama hangin' out. which was fun at the time, but now is a way of both showing he's normal/mortal and proving he's different/exceptional.

btw, i'm not bad that you got all the traffic off of that obama yearbook photo. . .

At 3/07/2007 8:43 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

mad, not bad.

At 3/07/2007 10:15 PM, Blogger Edward said...

nice try homes..
Kobe- straight out of high school ass raping athlete with no college education becomes a star, shills for sprite ,and decides that he doesn't need the most dominate player in the game...

Obama- 1st black president of the Harvard Law review, graduates Magna Cum Laude in 3 years from Harvard Law School. And worked for a civil rights law firm in Chicago rather than cash in the Harvard education.

the only comparison between them is that the both 1/2 black and have nice smiles..

At 3/07/2007 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think most Kobe hatred is media created. Anytime I've ever heard him talk he seems pretty normal/boring.
No one has ever held dwayde to any kind of entertainment standard. The last time he said something that wasn't boring he was gloating over last year's finals victory by trashing this year's probable mvp.
Not saying wade is a bade guy, just that there's a double standard that has almost nothing to do with how these athletes really are.


At 3/07/2007 11:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think, in a parallel universe, Kobe would be just as legitimate a candidate (at least personality wise) as Barry. People are used to candidates being liars and athletes being "real," perhaps? Falseness is so ingrained in politics that even an iota of personal truth is embraced (as long as it's not something ugly like "I evaded taxes on my home with the help of a political booster" or "I'm a crack addict"). Barry and Kobe inhabit a similar space in very different spectrums.

At 3/07/2007 11:26 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

wow, did obama really graduate from law school in 3 years? holy shit, that's exactly how long i and every other douchebag in law school takes to graduate. it's a 3 year program.

also, kobe isn't half black.

and it's "dominant."

At 3/07/2007 11:35 PM, Blogger Thomas M. said...

It's because Kobe is a Euro. The best Euro of all time! And this unconciously realized dichotomy causes us concious disharmony, realized along the spectrum from Shoal's positing to Ed's flailing.

At 3/07/2007 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suspect analogy. In short, it's true that both have spent time crafting calculated media personae, but I think that Kobe's on court actions reveal his true (basketball) self. There's no corresponding realm in which we can view Obama's true political self.

The reason I can't stand Kobe is that he is and will always be a bitch: a petualant child who shows his emotional immaturity when things don't go his way.

The clearest example on the court is his penchant for delivering cheap shots, usually to players who are getting the better of his team.

It's come to light this season with the Ginobili and Jaric shots, but remember when he elbowed Bibby in the face on a jumpshot in the playoffs (by the way, Bibby was somehow called for a foul on Kobe...and yall want to complain about the officiating with Wade)?

To make matters worse, even his detractors ignore this fact. People called the 80s-90s Utah players on their dirty play, but Kobe gets a pass?

At 3/08/2007 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MegaPickles & Obama... friends forever.


At 3/08/2007 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the reason for questioning kobe's authenticity definitely relates to his having grown up in the spotlight, as has been mentioned, but also, and more directly, from the clear presence in his past of a serious transgression that left him with an image in need of reshaping. this parallel with obama feels too much to me like the implication that he, too, has some such incident, but that we just aren't privvy to it. i hope that whatever "past" he's assumed to have moved beyond isn't related to that "barry" yearbook stuff. and i gotta say, i know it was a funny picture, but there's something fucked up about referring to him as barry in the cheeky way that some of these comments are. and it's more than just a larry/lawrence fishburne thing, in that barack is a name that clearly expresses an african heritage or at least cultural association, and to externally substitute "barry" for that reads to me like a snarky deracialization and a giggle in the face of cultural identity.

At 3/08/2007 1:11 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

don't think i said this clearly enough in my earlier comment:



both pitfalls of the territory the two treaded at the time. . .occupational hazards. . .that ended up throwing their true path into stark relief.

and obama has said that using drugs had to do with "being confused about his place in society," so maybe p.t. is on to something with the sinisterness of "barry"

At 3/08/2007 1:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stepping outside of the overdetermined FD mindset (i know i know not allowed or whatever) - of all the basketball fans i know, only one still holds some serious hatred in his heart for KB, and that's because everyone told him to hate Bryant two years ago because of Colorado and post-Shaq and dude is mad slow so he's still coming around. But, I mean, I feel like most fans at this point have either tolerance for Kobe or think he's a decent guy for growing up, realizing he's playing with goonsquad, being a good leader for a team that should be a good 10 games behind where they are right now, and generally being a great player to both watch and root for. He's far from being on some bonds "who's world is this?..." shit and aside from getting caught for his post-game frustration, he ranks somewhere around 13 for punch-in-the-face factor among top 20 players in the league (1. dirk 2. dirk 3. amare 4. sheed...)

At 3/08/2007 1:26 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i would love to see that list in full.

At 3/08/2007 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, yeah, i missed the hangin out= coke point, and apologies for going more literal than you intended and to now take it even further, but i think it's worth mentioning that, structural similarities aside, kobe's possibly revelatory incident didn't simply involve another person, it involved hurting another person (even if he didn't hurt the woman as alleged, he at least hurt his wife).
further, if, as you mention, obama discusses his drug use in connection with being confused about his place in society, couldn't the admission be seen not as an assertion of normalcy, but as a critique of the society that forced confusion and its powdery recourse? not "i did coke, i'm mortal," but "black/white, red state/blue state drove me to drugs, let's change it, together."
i honestly don't know, just wondering if it could've been intended as the latter. i guess either way it does political work for him, in a way that won't be able to feel like a "pure" unburdening.
this may not be what we're here for.

At 3/08/2007 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

more succintly- accepting the comparison as a structural parallel and wondering why the response is polar assumes that people don't react differently to the fact that kobe's insight incite involved hurting someone and barack's did not.
or maybe it assumes nothing and this distinction is simply the answer.

At 3/08/2007 3:07 AM, Blogger sam said...

I don't think you can atomize Obama's personality/impact on people like that. His admission is such a marginal part of who he is, what he represents as a politician, that the connection to "persona" is pretty frail.

Listen to the man give a speech. There's enough optimism and conviction (ie authenticity) there to blow doing blow and whatever else out of the water.

At 3/08/2007 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The analogy holds because both Kobe and Obama have strategically or instinctively decided to let white America determine the parameters of their success or failure, and this determines their relationship to black America. This is not saying that they don't represent something very powerful to black America, but they both know that this is not the determinant of their success.

In this way, the best analogy is MJ. He could be a gambler and womaniser after he'd made white America love him and been seen to be unthreatening. Kobe got no love partially because white America didn't need another MJ, having had one, partially because he was a spoilt rich kid, partially because he spent too much time overseas not being an American. He just has no viability as an organic intellectual, on or off the court, even if he is boring. MJ at least represented fantasy - Kobe is too flawed for anyone similarly boring to identify with him. There's a difference between explaining to yr wife you had a one night stand and/or lost money gambling, and saying you're charged for sexual assault on the cleaning lady in yr hotel (whoops!).

At 3/08/2007 8:48 AM, Blogger Edward said...

Cocaine use is not as big a deal as butt raping a girl in a hotel room.
sorry it's not.

As far as law school taking three years, you're right but not every other douchebag makes it through law school in three years. I mean eighth grade takes one years and I'm sure some bloggers took longer.

At 3/08/2007 9:57 AM, Blogger Nathaniel Z said...

Obama/Bryant 2008.

At 3/08/2007 1:30 PM, Blogger Z said...

We embrace what we FEEL is genuine and dismiss what we FEEL is a crafted cynical persona. Of course, Barry has only really been in the public eye for 2-3 years, while Kobe took Brandy to the prom a decade ago. So I'm sure the collective image of Obama will change, particularly by the time his 8 year run is over (??).

Anyway, is it a coincidence that most (it would seem) tend to perceive Kobe's persona as one he is trying to project rather than one he can't help but project? I can't say, but would tend to think, like others before me, that his on the court actions (particularly his bullshit/Jeter-esque facial expressions) override whatever his off the court image has/is/will become/becoming/become.

At 3/08/2007 1:52 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

First, in retrospect, I agree with P.T. - Calling him "Barry" was ill-done (though meant only as a reference to the yearbook photo which blew my fucking mind and still does. Shoals, I did give, as Trent Tucker used to say, due where due is credit as to where I found that one...), though it's also affectionate; in lighter moments, I say "Johnny Edwards" but never Johnny McCain for example. But I digress...

Anyway, my original point stands in that while Obama has admitted to using the coca, we never saw it. Just as with W being a drunken coke monkey in the 70s/80s, it was the 80s and everyone who was anyone was drunk and/or on coke. Even putting Colorado aside, we saw, in living color, some pretty unflattering things about KB24 that lead one to question the authenticity of his new, elder statesman, role. If it was just words on a page, we could rationalize it as part of his personal narrative (ding!) much more easily than if our touchstone is the video footage.

At 3/08/2007 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's a false analogy. kobe is kobe, obama is obama, and dubya is dubya. Everyone seems to focus on Kobe's marital infidelty, while forgetting that he was falsely accused of rape. Have you any idea how soul crushing that can be? It's not that we don't trust kobe, it's that he doesn't trust the royal US.

At 3/08/2007 3:19 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I still stand by what I said about the old Kobe being the real one and the new one being the "fake" one; but by no means did I mean that the Kobe that came in the league was pathological. I think due to Kobe spending most of his formative years as an English-speaking African-American growing up in Italy (and also having only sisters but no brothers), he probably spent a lot of time alone just playing basketball by himself. By all accounts when he returned to the US for high school he was very much the same, just working out in the gym alone for much of the day or playing on the Philly playgrounds against players who were much older and who weren't going to look to befriend him.

I really think by the time Kobe came to the NBA he was a loner who just liked to ball and didn't have any interest in hanging out with his teammates and didn't see the point of or the value in that. Shaq being Shaq he tried right away to take Kobe under his wing, but Kobe wasn't looking for that and Shaq took it as a slight. The media wanted access from Kobe but Kobe had no interest in that either, and they too took it as a slight. With the game's new ambassador and the media feeling slighted by Kobe, they began to shape his image in a negative way, eased by the fact Kobe had no idea how to shape his image and probably only even tried to do so at the behest of his agents and handlers.

Kobe today I think probably does genuinely now understand the importance of forming some kind of a social bond with his teammates, and understands the value on the court of getting them involved. I think much of the "image rehabilitation" is still at the behest of his agents and handlers, but maybe Kobe is wiser now and knows that the media is not something that will just go away if he doesn't give them access. He knows they're going to write stories about him, and if he rebuffs them then those stories will be negative. The hatred for Kobe is not unfounded, but with rare exception none of us knows these athletes and we shape our opinions of them based on what we're fed by the media. The image of Kobe we were all fed was that he's the ultimate basketball villain. The real tragedy of the Colorado rape case was that it helped legitimize this image for many people, and has ever since been the rationale they've used for why they hate Kobe, when the reality is that they hated him long before that ever happened (he was booed at the 2003 All Star Game, remember). Odds are very good that the Colorado case was an attempt by Ms. Faber to extort money from Kobe (especially in light of all the evidence and the fact that she refused to testify but sued for money instead). The Colorado incident probably did hurt Kobe's wife, but she did support him throughout it even though she could have divorced him and cleaned him out if she wanted to (they have no pre-nup).

Ultimately I think that the "real" Kobe now is just a guy who wants his privacy and who wants to play basketball and win a championship. He's still hated by many and over-scrutinized and that's probably how it will always be. He's less hated now than he was a year or two ago, and I think he'll continue to win people over as long as the Lakers continue to improve and exceed expectations. I think this perception that he's a dirty player is ridiculous and is simply a result of the microscope he is under. Lots of players create contact and there are lots of plays in which players get hit accidentally during the course of a game. Like Bill Russell said, it's a contact sport. With Kobe, however, malice is attached to every incidental contact, and especially for the haters this feeds into their view of him. If any player other than Kobe had been suspended for what happened the other night, fans everywhere would be outraged; but because it's Kobe that's being punished, for many people they don't care if it's justified or not because they just want to see him punished. The problem is that it allows the league to set a bad precedent and begin suspending other players for the same nonsense.

At 3/08/2007 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, basically everyone wants Kobe to come out and just act like himself and not the fake, flawless person he portrays. I agree that he sounds too scripted and insincere, and the way he handles controversy appeared gutless and childish.

I think we need to consider how old he really was when he was when all of the controversy was happening. He was a kid. A young, flawed individual who was still learning how to be a man. Unfortunately it was all under a public microscope. I hardly think that any one of us would want to grow up with a video camera watching our every move and sports journalists dissecting every facet of our personal lives. I don't think we would come out looking very squeaky clean either.

There are lots of immature early 20's guys out there who cheated on their girlfriend, were involved in drugs, and got into legal issues. Does that make them bad people? I don't think so. I think it makes them normal.

So why is a normal guy like Kobe being compared to a murderer like OJ Simpson? That's insane to me. I think people need to take a step back and look at themselves before they go criticize someone else for their flaws.

At 3/08/2007 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya'll gotta quit tapdancing.

Blacks hate Kobe because he's too Anglo.

Whites hate Kobe because he's a Black Aristocrat.

Globalized, Corporate, Precise.

Angel-Eyed Cold-Blooded Killer.

Loves his family and cheats on his wife.

Got burned by a white slut in one of the whitest states. He was naive then. Now knows racial power structures can still touch him.

We still celebrate Bill C., don't we?

Mamba may be too far ahead of his time.

At 3/08/2007 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*Correction: he's not that far ahead.


Mamba bears the curse of those who are slightly ahead of their time.

At 3/08/2007 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Both wear their intelligence, their impeccability, and their hygiene on their sleeves, while emphasizing their right to be loose within this."

That about sums it up. Good call.

At 3/08/2007 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe = A-Rod.

With rings.

At 3/08/2007 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A-Rod chokes under pressure and is a post season zero. Hardly comparable to Bryant.

At 3/08/2007 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Less with his play and more with his painstaking desire to have and maintain a particular image. Hence, with rings (clearly this wasn't enough to explain it).

At 3/09/2007 5:43 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ed - please be mindful with your words. we are trying to have a respectful discussion on this blog. Go to Yahoo sports or ESPN for that kind of elementary viewpoint. You're doing no one any good.

the white america remarks stated by danny was very well written and extremely poignant. great observation.

I think the timeframe kobe entered the league was also his downfall, yet he played right into it. i think the fact that kobe was never humble coming into his success made everyone hate him. then, the moral issues changed everything and became the perfect excuse to write him off.

But don't EVER compare him to A-Rod. 3-time champion cannot be forgotten. Watch Game 4 of the NBA finals of 2000 or Game 4 of the 2006 series against Phoenix. this dude is CLUTCH!!!

but to doubt that he isn't the most polarizing figure in the NBA is crazy.

At 3/09/2007 5:48 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Cocaine use only hurts yourself? The money one pays for the coke is going to a criminal organization. Such an organization does, well, criminal things which wind up hurting people.

At 3/10/2007 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Historian Marshall Poe on playing basketball with Obama (they were at Harvard together)


At 3/11/2007 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe = Obama is deeply flawed because the NBA is not Washington.

In the NBA, trash-talking, brashness, and motherfuckerdom are celebrated traits.

In politics, the most smackdown that's ever been laid is "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Weak sauce, but I suppose that's what you get when you deal with old white men.


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