As much as I still dislike Kobe Bryant, one must give the man his due as a result of his one-game, 81-point feat contributing to yesterday’s Los Angeles Lakers 122-104 rout of the Toronto Raptors. The one-game score is only second to famed Laker Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 100-point game against the New York Knicks.
At first, I was looking for loopholes: the late Chamberlain was a center and therefore not responsible for feeding the ball to his teammates as point-guard Bryant is. Then I decided to go on the high road.
Bryant was merely showing his teammates what can be done with effort and opportunity. And I suspect that the performance was fueled by something that happened on Martin Luther King Day.
There is still a lot of acrimony among Laker fans in LA about the Shaquille O’Neal trade. Many still think that the Lakers traded the wrong man. (I suspect, however, that few teams were willing to shoulder the public-relations burden of having Kobe on their team in the wake of his rape acquittal, the sleaziness of his accuser notwithstanding.) But, during an MLK Day meeting between O’Neal’s Miami Heat and the Lakers (a Laker win), O’Neal and Bryant publicly buried the hatchet, apparently partially at the behest of the Boston Celtics’ legendary center Bill Russell, who had waged a similar public feud with Chamberlain. But Russell and Chamberlain made up before the end. When Chamberlain died all too early in 1999 at age 53, Russell was undoubtedly heartbroken, but gratified that he and his equally legendary “adversary” had remembered what was important before it was too late.
[Mr. Russell] said he talked to Mr. (Wilt) Chamberlain at least once a week before he passed away, and I actually thought they hated each other, but he told me that wasn't the case at all. It was something I had to hear from a guy like that. My mother and father also called me and told me to shake Kobe's hand and that we were making a big deal about nothing. And even though I do act crazy sometimes, I do listen." [SNIP]
"It wasn't anything important that we talked about," O'Neal said. "We actually talked about something that was more important than basketball. His wife's having a baby and my wife's having a baby, so I just went up to him and said congratulates on the baby. We'll see each other again when you guys [the media] aren't around. We'll sit down and have a conversation." [SNIP]
As Bryant prepared to leave Staples Center, with his first win over O'Neal's Heat under his belt and the rift over, he said he looked forward to sitting down with O'Neal somewhere in South Beach or Newport Beach during the offseason and further burying their feud.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to that," said Bryant. "We'll probably talk about tricking out cars; like putting hydraulics on a '53 Impala. We'll be talking about fun stuff."
It’s stuff like this—after the team-fan brawls and the like--that might convince me to start watching the NBA again (at least the Lakers and the Heat); if Kobe’s wife and Shaquille can cut the Laker guard some forgiveness for his transgressions, maybe, just maybe I might do so also.
Meanwhile, as one of my co-workers observed, the Lakers are, for better or worse, now demonstrably Kobe’s team.