Kobe’s on court play is patching up his image
But how far can points go?Kobe Bryant is one heck of a basketball player.While many people will never be able to respect Bryant due to his off-court actions, it is hard not to respect how much of a dominant force Bryant is on the court.Bryant’s 81-point explosion Sunday night was an astounding feat, and brought even more attention to the media focal point that he has been for the past few years.But after all of the negative press Bryant has drawn upon himself, between his lawsuit here in Eagle County and the saga with Shaq and Phil Jackson in L.A., Bryant seems to be turning his image around.How is he doing it? Just with his play.
Right now Bryant is the best player in the league. He is averaging 35.9 points per game, 4.3 assists per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. Yes, Allen Iverson averages 33.4 points along with 7.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game and LeBron James has 31 points per game, with 6.2 assists and 6.7 rebounds. And, yes, Bryant is the fifth-most efficient player in the league (Efficiency is a measure of all of a players’ statistics), but efficiency doesn’t take into consideration intangibles like lack of quality of teammates, media and fan expectations, as well as the enmity factor.While I don’t feel bad for Bryant for one second, I concede that it can’t be easy to play when more fans boo you and hope you don’t make your shots.If you take these factors, add in that he ignites for 81-points single-handedly leading his team to victory, and that the Shaq-less Lakers are 22-19, it’s hard to dispute Kobe’s prowess.All he has done this year is play phenomenal basketball and keep his mouth shut.In the past, he was a whiner and a bad teammate, but this year he didn’t bicker when coach Phil Jackson sat him on the bench for the fourth quarter of his previously career-high 62-point game against the Mavericks on Dec. 20. (And the only way someone can score 62 or 81 points for a Jackson-coached team is if the team absolutely needs those points.) Outside the court
He’s making his way back to being an embraced superstar in the NBA, and slowly in the corporate world.Nike is reposting one of its former poster boy with a new set of ads. But other corporate sponsors like McDonalds are more reluctant to use Bryant, as their measure of marketability doesn’t correlate to points scored like Nike mostly does.Another sign of his image making a resurrection is audience reaction. Fans in opposing arenas are starting to cheer him when he drops 40-plus points. Again, the lauding emanates solely from his quality play.Now that his play has partially exonerated his misgivings, is it possible he’ll ever rise to popularity level where he and the NBA were synonymous?I don’t think it will happen, even if he averages over 40 points per game. He’ll never be able to join the likes of athletes like Walter Payton, Mark Messier and Roberto Clemente – great athletes and perennial ambassadors for their sports. Quite frankly, I hope never does. I think Bryant’s a phenomenal player, but not a phenomenal person.But much like I can be awed by Bode Miller skiing on edge to win, I can still be awed by an 81-point performance.
So on April 4 when the Nuggets host the Lakers, how will the fans respond to the revamped Bryant?I bet Bryant won’t be loathed like Todd Bertuzzi when the Vancouver Canucks came to play the Avs, and mostly because Bertuzzi isn’t as good as Bryant. Bryant’s image may be patched up, and his game is the best its ever been, but will he ever truly recover?Only time, or points will tell.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado