Times are tough. The American recession is on like Donkey Kong, and has been going strong for about 4 years now. It's no longer a bug in the windshield, but more like your ex-girlfriend just keyed your car and maybe she's coming back for more. Did I mention she likes lighter fluid? Oh yeah and she's pregnant.
The European economy is getting worse. Countries bailing each other out to the point that the bailers are taking hits. Everyone is slowing down. The effect of this is stress, and what easier target is there than those that make tons of money for fairly frivolous reasons?
Enter NBA players. They're not alone, mind you - this is affecting all aspects of culture but we're not talking about them here, Justin Beiber. Earlier this summer we had the parking-lot-gate of Andrew Bynum and then just a few days ago Kobe-church-smartphone-gate. Let's look at Bynum first.
Ok, so Bynum parked in a handicapped spot so he could run into the Whole Foods or whatever it was and purchase various sundries ninja-style. I believe that he considers himself "handicapped" to a certain degree, and it's for this reason that he hasn't apologized nor feels the need to acknowledge the situation in the public eye. Afterall, it's the public eye that is his handicap in the first place. If Bynum were to park in a "normal" spot and walk the 50 yards or so into the store, he might run into Laker fans, Celtic fans, Rich person fans, etc., thus slowing him down and "handicapping" his ability to run a routine errand and get back home to lay down some frags on the ps3.
This is an inconvenience, for sure - but not a disabling one. In fact, the public sees quite the opposite. It is the functions of the market and popular culture at large that allows him to make the immense salary he does and buy all the cars and computers and live his life of sport and leisure. Is 13 million dollars a year an "inconvenience" or a "handicap"? Maybe if you're Prokhorov but not to the everyman. To those who can't even afford a ticket to a Lakers game, the only opportunity to see one of the players in person is by chance. Such is the arrangement, the market.
Therein lies the difference. To Bynum, he's fully willing to take advantage of the benefits of being a celebrity sports athlete, but at the same time not willing to play the role that allows him to be in said situation. A main part of the reason he makes so much money is because of the very public, celebrity status an NBA player engenders yet at the same time he wants to be seperate from that very machine and even eschew the public responsibilities or role that status demands in chance situations.
Kobe's situation is not much different. To those that this situation annoyed lies the very same principles. He's a public figure, he makes tons of money, allow yourself to be subject to that very deranged public persona you've created, they might say. Yes some might go overboard. Some might scream and try to rip off your clothes. Some might stalk you and sleep in the trees outside your house. The price you pay for that nuisance/death threat? 25 Million dollars a year.
Of course there are those that are going to say no, some of these guys just really want to play basketball and they just love the game, and celebrity is a byproduct of that, and that's why the whole of celebrity culture annoys them so much. Please. I'm sure there are a few that somehow went through the entire machination of club ball, jr and high school ball - agents, pr people, private trainers etc., yet have no interest in the public eye. However these aren't them. You don't come up with your own nickname, ask the team to call you "A-train", or "make it rain" in a strip club if you are serious about the sport and the sport itself. Today's NBA cannot be separated from it's celebrity culture, and if you're not willing to pay the price, don't collect the check. You're earning your money on the court as well as off. I think you can walk into the market like everyone else, or pay someone else to be like everyone else. At the very least, you're not handicapped.
Yes, we are in a deep recession - and yes, this is a very slow NBA news cycle so of course these issues are going to be out there more than usual. But to complain about it is like George Michael famously complaining about not wanting to be a celebrity in the 80's. You don't want to be a celebrity? Well then don't release albums on the radio and play concerts to tens of thousands of people. Yeah, you won't be rich. You decide.