Kobe, contrived

The Heat won…


…and Kobe went into a full shooting workout after the game. Then he gave a mini press conference about it.


Bryant’s gifts are his own, the media did not spawn this multi-faceted arsenal. Only the genius from within could become that artist who flings shots, without warning, from all angles—in the way a tornado hurls cows.

The media can however, influence Bryant’s brand, how we see him, and how he strives to be seen. I couldn’t help but suspect our imprint upon reading coverage of Kobe’s postgame workout.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register tweeted: “In more than a decade covering Kobe, I haven’t seen him do this before.” So the action is abnormal, even if it is agenda-free.

From afar, it looked unnatural and contrived. And of course, the workout led itself to good (Internet) copy. Much of the current Bryant myth-making revolves around his storied work ethic. I’ve long been weary of such hushed-toned accolades, because a) The descriptions–save for this instance–rarely come with specifics and b) Many NBA players levitate to impossible dreams, using their own backs as launching pads. For every Wilt Chamberlain, there’s another baller, single-mindedly wringing his potential for all it will surrender.

Perhaps I would buy the “KOBE BRYANT HARDEST WORKING MAN SINCE LENO” trope had not the “Kobe Doin’ Work” documentary tried so ardently to convince me. I believe that Lee’s film unintentionally revealed a man I could relate to, though. The Mamba was uncomfortable in his own skin like a snake, almost nerdy, nearly a nebbish. He flailed at conveying an imaginary charisma while befuddled co-workers blinked into the farce. For a moment I saw my own reflection in that stilted, stagnant, flowless lake.

Before the Lakers got Gasol, Kobe was beset by charges of contrivance, of folding himself into Michael Jordan’s facsimile. A Slate piece, titled “On the Pleasure of Hating Kobe Bryant,” lobbed:

“Kobe’s dramatic gestures are all either borrowed or embarrassing. After his game-winner over the Suns in Game 4, Kobe held his fist frozen in front of him exactly like MJ used to. But when he got clotheslined by Raja Bell in the next game, there was no script to work from: You could almost see him trying to remember if Come Fly With Me had any footage of Jordan getting horse-collared by Joe Dumars. Kobe finally improvised with a sassy hand-gesture shuffle. He wiped a pile of imaginary dirt off of his shoulder for a while, then added a schoolmarm finger waggle while making the least convincing tough-guy face I’ve ever seen. It was like a high-school production of West Side Story.”

The last two championships washed away such characterizations, as media members concocted new storylines. He’s no longer too selfish to win, and he’s no longer a kid playing dress up in Jordan’s sneakers. That’s all been replaced by, “Kobe Bryant wants it more than anybody, so much that he’s a clutch assassin killer throat stomper hardest worker uni-focused closer.”

In some ways, I think such memes could be selling Bryant short. I’ve heard him interviewed, and gauged an intelligent, thoughtful, multi-faceted human. If KB is only thinking about basketball 24 hours per day, I’m all the more impressed.

But, Kobe-as-machine is the order of the hour. The archetype is his to flaunt, even after an embarrassing loss. It just feels like so much like stagecraft. Fans, media are reverse engineering a winner (Kobe) to be a Puritanical ideal. He’s overacting the part, billowing smoke into the trope. Perhaps Bryant really did need to get that postgame practice in, and perhaps it really is illustrative of how he’s the sweatiest grinder. Or, PR and practice found a nice spot to mingle.

Kobe texted Adrian Wojnarowski with the Achilles quote: “I want what all men want. I just want it more.” I wonder: Who’s less myth, the Mamba or Achilles?

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