NEW YORK — As a self-trained psychoanalyst, I’m greatly tempted to explore the alcoves of Kobe Bryant’s innermost thoughts regarding loneliness, ruthless words about Shaquille O’Neal and dirty deed with a stranger whose allegation will stain him forever even if found innocent (bad choice of words), I meant to say, not guilty.
As someone who hasn’t known Kobe since he was born (despite having covered, dined and partied with his father, Joe, when he played for the 76ers), I really liked what I saw up close and, at times, very personal.
Whenever my family was in the vicinity, Kobe would go out of his way to say hello and make sensible conversation for a few minutes when he could have easily hit and run like most artists. Immediately after the Lakers beat the Nets two years ago, Kobe invited my son into his private celebration nook and dropped a pair of signed sneakers on him.
Of course, Kobe knew the power of the pen and the muscle of the microphone. Moreover, he knew that I knew that he knew. Nobody ever accused Pam Bryant of raising an idiot.
In complete contrast, off-the-court trustees were covertly accusing Kobe of extraordinary cruelty and insensitivity.
After 35 years in the business, you would think I would know the correct way to handle such a touchy state of affairs and how to authenticate or invalidate the inflammatory information; opening up a file in my computer with Kobe’s name on it was about as conscientious as I got.
In view of our warm relationship and his three-peat championship competence, I figured I would just let the harpoons slide and see what happens.
Who would have guessed?
Had I done my homework properly, maybe me; the least I could have offered was some educated speculation.
Meanwhile, there’s suddenly a groundswell of opinion that the Lakers’ organization similarly mismanaged his situation — but the inspection of Kobe’s purported pampering by the powers that be (vs. holding him to a higher standard) will have to be put on hold.
Today my primary priority is Kobe’s well-being; it’s distressing to see a 25-year-old so unconditionally isolated from everyone but his wife; and you have got to wonder about her allegiance considering his disloyalty toward her.
Kobe has no relationship with his parents; their supposed reconciliation is counterfeit. He hasn’t had a relationship with agent Arn Tellem for two years. His longtime relationship with sneaker sultan Sonny Vaccaro came unraveled a year ago when adidas dropped Bryant, or vice versa.
McDonald’s, I’m informed, would love to sever its relationship with him for being uncooperative, but hesitate for fear people will think the company is bailing out due to the rape charge. Nor does he have anything resembling a relationship with Shaq, Phil Jackson or any of his teammates — all of whom Bryant’s convinced offered no genuine support during his ordeal.
Perhaps Kobe’s only reliable ally is Jerry West, who obtained Bryant’s draft rights from the Hornets for Vlade Divac, but is now far removed in Memphis.
At the risk of being fined for tampering, the communication between the two is minimal, if at all, now that West is responsible for the Grizzlies. When they were together in L.A., Kobe regularly consulted with his mentor, but, truth be known, didn’t always listen to his advice, either.
“I once told him ‘you’re the most stubborn SOB I’ve ever been around in my life,’ ” West recalled recently. “And you know what he said? He said, ‘You’re right!’ “
Without West, Kobe’s riding solo on his motorcycle to exhibition games while everyone else is on the team bus. He’s out there in the middle of the ocean all by himself; out there bobbing around without a sail or a rudder.
Yet, instead of being appreciative of the support by the team and the players during his life-altering trauma, he has the audacity to reiterate plans to opt out at the end of the season.
In light of that reaffirmation and Kobe’s scathing counterattack on Shaq there should be no doubt in the minds of Laker decision makers that Bryant is dead set on leaving in order to prove he can win a title somewhere else, without the help of O’Neal.
Surely owner Jerry Buss understands a trade must be arranged as soon as possible; just because L.A.’s two sumo stars faked a Hollywood make up after cleansing their psyche of all the bile that had built up over the last few seasons, don’t think for a second anything has changed.
The obvious idea is for the Lakers to get as much as they can for their tainted talent before Kobe pulls a Shaq (the Magic still haven’t recovered from his defection and probably never will) and splits without the franchise getting spit in compensation.
Most observers believe the Grizzlies would do anything it took to reunite West and Kobe, but I’m not so sure Memphis has what it takes (they’re not giving up Pau Gasol; who cares about anybody else?) to get a deal done.
On the other hand, the Bulls definitely have the resources (Tyson Chandler and Jalen Rose, perhaps) and the craving to replace Michael Jordan with his closest heir. In fact, I’ve learned owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his staff are already sniffing around asking tough questions and doing a rigid background check of Kobe.
“It’s a damn shame,” said an L.A. hall monitor. “Kobe is so young and inexperienced he doesn’t realize what a great thing he’s got going with the Lakers. He really thinks he can win it all with another team without a significant other.”
If that happens, Tracy McGrady said wistfully before last week’s OT win over the Knicks, “then we’ll just have to put the gold crown on his head because he’ll have earned it.”
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