You know, I just wanted it so bad. I wanted it so, so bad ... And the more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me.
I really wish every Kobe Bryant press conference followed an NBA Championship. Obviously, it would be awesome for that to be true, if for no other reason than it would mean he was winning them almost daily, but the main reason is because, only directly after winning an NBA Championship does Kobe Bryant truly open up and let everybody in. The rest of the time, getting into Kobe Bryant's true thoughts and feelings is impossible. I'm not angry with him for putting up a facade. He doesn't want to be distracted. His focus is undaunted. All that said, it's refreshing to hear him speak and know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he's being completely straight with you.
You try not to [get involved in the hype]. Tonight, it got the best of me.
There's no way Kobe fesses up to being overwhelmed by the moment if he's not holding a championship trophy while he's doing it. And I'm glad Kobe copped to it, because if you look at his numbers from Game Seven, if you watched his performance, it was crystal clear that he was pressing. Game Seven, NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Celtics, revenge for 2008; he denied caring about all those factors beforehand, but his play showed that he cared. He cared too much. Last night, the moment was too big for Kobe Bryant.
That's not something I ever thought I would say about Kobe. He's had bad games before, had games where he didn't shoot the ball well. He hasn't had a bad game on this particular stage, because he's never had any game on this particular stage, but he's struggled before on nights when his team was facing elimination. This is hardly the first game he's forced bad shots. We've all seen him try to do too much before. But we've never gotten the impression that Kobe was intimidated by the stage he was on. Kobe's had games where he failed to live up to the moment, but before last night, I don't think it's ever been because the moment was too big.
But I'm not here to bash on Kobe Bryant's struggles. Nobody ever gets Kobe Bryant right. Detractors will talk about his unwillingness to share the ball, his need to force shots. Supporters will talk about how his team often forces him to force, by watching him instead of moving, or by passing the ball to him with 4 seconds left on the shot clock, expecting him to create something out of nothing. The argument of Kobe the Chucker vs. Kobe the guy forced to bail out his team is as subjective an argument as anything this side of Chicken v. Egg. And because Kobe is so polarizing, people's stances are always so black and white. I'm sorry, but Kobe's shot selection is mired in shades of gray. Sometimes he forces it because he's Kobe. Sometimes he forces it because his teammates require him to. I, for one, am done trying to separate the two. I don't care about his shot selection. It is a necessary evil, both in the sense that it is just part of the total Kobe Bryant package (which is so, so worth it), and in the sense that it is sometimes actually necessary for him to force shots.
The numbers are pretty painful, though. 6-24 shooting. 0-6 from 3 pt range. Before the 4th quarter he was also 3-6 from the FT line. He scored 23 points, in large part due to 8 points from FTs in the 4th, but to call his night a struggle is to call Rasheed Wallace a little bit hot-tempered. I have no desire to bash the Mamba, but if the Lakers had lost last night's game, Kobe would have deservedly taken a lion's share of the blame. His legacy would have taken a huge hit. You'd be hearing stories today involving his name and the word choke. Kobe knows exactly how lucky he is to have avoided that fate. He talked repeatedly about how lucky he was to have his teammates pick him up. While receiving his MVP trophy, he acknowledged how important Pau Gasol is to the team.
In the midst of a dreadful offensive performance, complete with 4 turnovers, it almost seemed like Kobe was wilting under the pressure. I already wrote about this in my slightly less analytical recap, but it's important enough to relive twice; there was a moment in the 4th quarter where Pau Gasol tapped out an offensive rebound, Kobe caught the ball, and it slipped right out of his hands. Ray Allen picked it up (I got it wrong the first time, I thought Rondo did) and ended up getting a blocking call on Kobe in transition. Kobe sat under the basket, and I stand behind my original description. He looked despondent. He couldn't understand why he was having such a horrible game. Jordan Farmar came over to help him up, and he didn't budge for a second. Then Farmar said something to him to get his mind back on track. Yet another example of how Kobe's teammates saved him last night.
Except he also saved himself. In the quote I used to open the piece, there is an ellipsis. That's a neat little trick journalists use to clean up quotes, to remove ancillary information that does not contribute to the message the quote is meant to convey. Here is what was in that particular ellipsis.
Plus, I was on E [the fuel tank, not the drug]. Man, I was really, really tried.
Here is Kobe Bryant, admitting that he was exhausted in last night's game. He doesn't need to admit it, we could see it in the way he was grimacing in the 4th quarter. He couldn't get his legs into his shots, which is why he was missing even the ones that were not poor decisions or necessary forces. The man was dead tired, in the biggest game of his life, and throwing down one of the worst performances of his life. He responded to these circumstances the only way he knows how.
By working his fucking ass off. The man had 15 rebounds. FIFTEEN!! As a shooting guard, that's downright insane. He may have been so tired he couldn't get the lift he needed to shoot, he may have been so fatigued that he couldn't focus well enough to avoid making costly mistakes, but Kobe still worked harder than anybody on the court. 4 of those rebounds came in the final quarter, a quarter in which he finally snapped out of it, and scored 10 points. Those 10 points came mostly on free throws, he still couldn't hit shots, but how those free throws were obtained says quite a bit. The first three came because he caught Ray Allen reaching with a swing through. It was a smart decision, but nothing that communicates his will to win.
The rest? He got two free throws by skying high to pick up a defensive rebound, and getting careened into by Glen Davis. He got two more when he attacked the basket hard and Paul Pierce got nothing but arm in attempting to block Kobe's dunk. Then, with 30 seconds left to play, Kobe missed another long jump shot. Pau Gasol picked up the offensive board, and was trapped on the baseline. He found Kobe, who took the ball, and used every last ounce of strength he had to throw himself into Rasheed Wallace and draw the foul that would seal the game. 3 plays, all displaying an energy Kobe Bryant willingly admits he didn't have. Add that to 15 rebounds, in a game in which he couldn't hit double digit shots. It's a lot easier to forgive him for the 18 possessions he used unsuccessfully, when he was responsible for acquiring 15 possessions in the other direction.
Kobe Bryant admits the moment was too much for him, which is good, because we all knew what we were watching. His teammates rescued him from having to live with the regret for the rest of his life, there's no doubt about it. But all you need to know about Kobe, all you need to see in order to understand why so many people love a player who does have a bit of a character flaw, it can all be seen in that box score. Kobe had one of the worst games of his life, in the biggest game of his life, and his response was to push his body past its limits in order to achieve success.
The moment was too big for Kobe Bryant. It caused his mind to make bad choices, while his body was failing him physically. So he turned to the one thing he had left. Thankfully for us all, Kobe Bryant's heart is bigger than any moment.