Has Kobe gone totally Yoko?Bryant has taken the harder road by staying with the Lakers
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
Kobe Bryant wouldn't have looked right in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform.
Imagine Mickey Mantle hitting home runs for the New York Mets, or John Elway throwing spirals for the Baltimore CFL Colts.
It would have been just as crazy as, say, Shaquille O'Neal wearing the colours of the Miami Heat.
Of course, there's a possibility the only uniform Bryant will need next season is an orange one issued by the state of Colorado. But Bryant has to assume he'll be available to play basketball, so he made a big career decision yesterday.
Bryant's choice to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers already has established what the hottest ticket of the 2004-05 NBA season will be: The first game between Bryant's Lakers and O'Neal's Heat, whether it's in Miami or in L.A.
Bryant's contract will run for seven years and is worth about $136 million US -- $30 million more than the Clippers could offer him, because of salary-cap regulations. But cash notwithstanding, remaining with the Lakers is the more gutsy of the two moves for Bryant, who voluntarily had narrowed his free-agent focus to the rival L.A. clubs.
If Bryant had picked the traditionally woeful Clippers, he would have had a ready-made, all-purpose excuse whenever anything went wrong. In bad times, the general observation would have been, "As talented a player as Kobe is, he couldn't overcome the Clipper curse."
By remaining with the Lakers, however, Bryant has set himself up for the role of Yoko Ono, who, rightly or wrongly, is blamed for breaking up the Beatles.
Kobe and Shaq led the Lakers to four NBA finals and three championships in five years, but their partnership ended in a mutual hissy-fit and O'Neal demanded a trade. He has joined a Miami team that already was pretty good and now figures to be an immediate contender.
Meanwhile, over on the West Coast, the new Bryant-era Lakers continuously will be compared with the O'Neal-and-Bryant-era Lakers. That has to be an intimidating prospect for the current regime, particularly general manager Mitch Kupchak, whose hair turns whiter every time somebody looks at him and says, "You're no Jerry West."
Then again, Bryant probably doesn't get intimidated by anything relating to basketball anymore, given that he's preparing to go on trial for rape in Eagle County, Colo. Having to shower beside Luke Walton doesn't seem so bad by comparison.
Nonetheless, if Bryant plays basketball next season, he finally is going to find out what Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson and Vince Carter already know: Being a marquee guard in the NBA without a star centre at your side makes you a target for mental and physical abuse.
The landscape in the West has changed during the past month, but the conference would have been even more unrecognizable had Bryant gone in a different direction.
The Lakers don't have the veneer of a great team anymore, but they should be decent at least, with a starting lineup that could feature Bryant, Gary Payton, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and whatever centre they can dig up.
But what of the poor Clippers, who were teased to the point that they actually believed they had a chance at Bryant?
Some things never change, and if Bryant had opted for the Clippers, it would have been spitting in the face of history.
Heck, this is a franchise that up until five years ago played in a venue so vile -- the L.A. Sports Arena -- that is was dubbed the Tinkle Palace by sports writers because it reeked of urine.
The Clippers play in the Staples Center now, as do the Lakers, but the two clubs don't play in the same league.
Still, by picking the Lakers over the Clippers, Bryant took the tougher route from a personal perspective.
Remember, none of Yoko's solo albums ever topped the charts.