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Some Thoughts on Kobe & Shaq

A few days ago, as you all remember quite well, Kobe Bryant hit this ridiculous game-winning bank shot over Dwyane Wade to beat Miami and keep the Lakers' winning streak (now at 9 games) alive. It was incredible, and yet, because it was Kobe, completely unsurprising. I was out of my mind, and yet, because it was Kobe, I should almost have expected it. It was an amazing shot, and yet, because it was Kobe, not a shocking one.

For me, as for many Lakers fans, the experience went beyond that single shot. In the day or so that followed, I found myself mentally reliving many of Kobe's previous buzzer beaters. Two of my favorites, of course, are the double-whammies versus Portland and Phoenix — in both of which, Kobe first ties the game at the buzzer to send it to overtime, and then, at the end of overtime, hits another shot at the buzzer to win it. (Side note: I wonder how many other players have hit two buzzer beaters in the same game, on more than one occasion? Anyone know?)

Suddenly, something occurred to me. My wife, who often watches Lakers games with me (lucky man that I am), had probably never seen either of those shots (or rather, pairs of shots). We got married in late 2006, and it was only after that that she started watching with me. So, of course, I called up YouTube and played them for her.

That's when I noticed something — something different about Shaq and Kobe...

Back in May of this almost-over calendar year, the NBA was busy applying fancy editing to some of the more dramatic moments in NBA playoff history, and the results were awesome. You had Dr. J's reverse layup, Larry Legend's inbounds steal, Magic Johnson's baby skyhook, and of course, Kobe's clutch alley-oop pass to Shaq.

When the Kobe-to-Shaq commercial ran, Jason Kottke noticed something about the play:

Bryant creates 95% of the offense here by crossing Pippen over and throwing a perfect lob to O'Neal. O'Neal throws it down and the camera follows him as he heads down the court yelling in celebration, totally blowing right past Kobe, who has his hand out to high-five Shaq. Kobe half-heartedly grabs at O'Neal's forearm as he passes; Shaq doesn't even notice.

Henry Abbott picked up on Jason's observation and ran it on TrueHoop, referring to it as "Where Amazingly Sad Happens."

Watch the video at the top of this post, and you'll see what they were referring to. Here's the unedited version, which further reinforces Kottke's point, making it even more clear that Kobe, not Shaq, is responsible for this play; Shaq was open for the lob because Kobe drew four defenders (Derek Fisher was keeping the fifth one honest).

Kobe created that play for Shaq. Kobe deserves most of the credit; all Shaq did was cash in on an incredible move and a gorgeous pass by Bryant. In fact, it's worth pointing out that in this situation, Kobe did what Magic didn't — pass the ball to his open big man. In light of Kobe's reputation as a supposed ball-hog (7 assists in the triangle offense, anyone?), even that is worth something — especially since Kobe had enough space to take the shot himself, and a free-throw jumper is almost automatic for him. But he made that pass, found his open big man, and created the biggest play of the game.

But what's Shaq's response, when the momentous play is completed? It's certainly not to show any appreciation to his very deserving teammate. Instead, he turns and points to the home crowd as he runs down the court.

It's as if to say, "I've done it! I've all but won us the game — give me the glory!" He's too busy exalting in his greatness and soaking in the adoration of the fans to even notice Kobe, let alone thank him. The star of the game, as Kottke also points out, was Kobe, who had 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 blocks in the amazing comeback, as compared to Shaq's 18/9/5/1. The credit for the pivotal play belonged to Kobe. But there's Shaq, taking all the credit.

Watch the unedited video again. As Kottke points out (the dude was full of insights), it shows Shaq finally finding Kobe for a high-five, long after the play is over and he's sought out and received his props from the fans and his teammates. Kottke points out that "it's a brief moment; they slap hands and go their separate ways, foreshadowing Shaq's departure four years later." To me, it looks like more of the same from Shaq — his body language says, "High five me for that awesome play I just made." (To his credit, Kobe does just that.) Not that there's anything wrong with that, when it's deserved; players do that all the time, when they've just done something awesome. It's just that, in this case, it should have been a high five, or even a hug, that said, "I'm high fiving you for that play you just made."

Kinda like this:

Having been blown away by Kobe's game-winner over Miami, and having gone back to relive this previous clutch Kobe moments with my wife, I noticed something that reminded me of Jason Kottke's and Henry Abbott's observations regarding the Kobe-Shaq alley-oop.

Kobe deserved more credit for his game-tying floater than Shaq did for his alley-oop dunk. Unlike Shaq, Kobe created his own shot, and it was much more difficult. The presence of mind to know how much time was on the clock, and to know what kind of shot he could get in that time, was incredible. That left fake before he goes to the right around Raja Bell is simply brilliant. The twisting floater over Diaw to avoid the block was as perfect as it gets, and a very tough shot found nothing but net. As one commentator puts it (sounds like Hubie Brown, maybe?), "This is a miraculous shot."

But incredible as that shot was, it never would have happened without Smush freaking Parker's (!!) strip and deflection. And Kobe knows it. From stripping the ball without fouling, to dancing along the sideline while chasing a loose ball, to the presence of mind required to calmly make the controlled tap to an already-breaking teammate (Devean George), Smush Parker was, quite simply, playing way over his head. It was a brilliant, savvy, smart play that set up Kobe's shot. Get this right, folks: Kobe may have tied the game, but it was Smush Parker who saved it.

And Kobe knows this. He's just sent the game to overtime, and the crowd is going nuts for him, and he could care less about any of that. Instead of celebrating his own incredible shot or soaking in the crowd's mind-numbing adoration, he makes a bee-line for Smush. There's no simple high five here, no quick butt-smack. He freaking smothers the kid, and doesn't let go of him until Smush knows that he was the man on that play. Even after his teammates catch up and mob Kobe for making the shot, he still doesn't let go of his boy.

Smush Parker didn't put up 25/11/7/5 on the game. In fact, he was pretty bad on the night, going 2-12 for 5 points, with 3 rebounds, only 1 assist, and 5 fouls (and no free throws of his own). As hindsight has made so very clear, it had to be frustrating for Kobe to be playing the mighty Suns alongside a player of Smush's caliber (not to mention Devean George/Brian Cook and Kwame Brown, who, together with Smush, composed 3/5 of the Lakers starting unit). But in this moment, none of that matters, because as far as Kobe is concerned, Smush is the hero of the moment, and he makes sure his point guard gets every ounce of the appreciation he deserves.

Now, don't take this as being some sort of end-all point to completely settle the argument — but doesn't it seem a bit off to you, in watching these two plays, that Kobe had the reputation of being such a bad teammate, and Shaq, such a great one? Certainly, Kobe has had his flaws. But, as this video session suggests, perhaps it's not nearly so cut and dry — perhaps Kobe was never as bad as he was made out to be, and perhaps Shaq was never as good.

Just some food for thought, for the next time the Shaq-Kobe "relationship" comes up.

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