The Last WordWhile LeBron has been crowned the new king of the NBA mountain, Kobe is finding that hoops stardom can be a slippery slope.
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
SACRAMENTO -- Call it the NBA's circle of life.
On the way up: LeBron James.
On the way down: Kobe Bryant.
James' Cleveland Cavaliers may lose a lot of games this season, but it still feels like the beginning of something.
Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers may win a lot of games this season, but it still feels like the end of something.
Not that Bryant is done at 25 and James is infallible at 18. But now might be the time to acquire some additional James stock while discreetly unloading your Bryant shares.
Bryant is facing some unique challenges, the most obvious of which is a rape trial. Add to that Kobe's problematic right knee as well as his recent public catfight with fellow Lakers superstar Shaquille O'Neal and a very blunt question has to be asked:
Just how much do you think Kobe Bryant is going to play this season?
He's nowhere near top form either physically or mentally and he already has informed the Lakers of his intention to opt out of his contract next summer. He has won three championships with the Lakers and dreams of leading another team to a title -- on his own and without Shaq.
What's more, whenever Kobe does play this season, he is sure to take a lot of verbal abuse on the road, especially in cities like Philadelphia, New York and Salt Lake City, where Jazz fans lose their religion more easily than you might think.
These do not sound like the conditions under which a player will be in the lineup at all costs, no matter how tough he is. Lakers fans won't want to hear that, since they clearly favour Kobe over Shaq, if the reaction at the home opener in L.A. on Tuesday was any indication.
The Lakers faithful has been indiscriminately supportive of Kobe, not only in his dispute with a 7-foot-1 teammate but in his legal dispute in Colorado. And that reaction in itself is something of a strange phenomenon, isn't it?
Not that Bryant isn't innocent till proven guilty, but the fact that some fans are determined to love Bryant even more now, says something about the complex, sports-mad culture in the United States in the 21st century.
Imagine, if you will, someone like Joe DiMaggio getting charged with a similar crime in the early 1950s. Until a determination was made as to whether DiMaggio was guilty or innocent, would fans at Yankee Stadium have held up pro-DiMaggio signs and screamed, "We love you, Joe?" Or would they have adopted a more reserved, wait-and-see approach?
No one can go back in time and find out, and there's no right or wrong here, either. Regardless, no matter how much Lakers fans want things to be exactly the way they were, the old Kobe may never be back, at least not in purple and gold.
Enter James, whose drawing power was obvious on Wednesday, when ESPN was showing an NBA double-header. The early game between the Orlando Magic and the New York Knicks went into overtime, and ESPN actually cut away from that game to show the beginning of the late game, which featured James' Cavs against the Sacramento Kings.
ESPN switched back and forth between the two games for the next few minutes, but do you think the Magic's Tracy McGrady might consider it to be a sign of disrespect?
As it turned out, James' first quarter might have been the most impressive first quarter for a rookie in NBA history. There still are some cynics who are anxious for James to fail, but failure does not appear to be an option at this point.
Cavs coach Paul Silas admitted the hype surrounding James has been "overwhelming for all of us." But not only is there no end in sight, it'll get worse if James continues to improve.
"Well, if it gets worse, then it means we're winning, so that will be okay with me," Silas said. "If (James) doesn't do well and we still win, I think the attention will still be on us. It's going to be on us no matter what."
As long as the attention is on James and away from Bryant, that will suit the NBA just fine.