It’s been two weeks since Kobe Bryant played a game and could be nine months before he plays another one. But on a weekend when the opening round of the playoffs featured dominant performances by the home teams and not much Game 1 drama — save for the Nuggets-Warriors — the injured 34-year-old still managed to be the most interesting story, or at least the most controversial.
Kobe, stuck at home with his Achilles injury, had promised to tweet during the opening game, an intriguing prospect because he’s proven to be an entertaining presence on social media, whether it’s his Facebook post after his devastating injury or his appearance on Twitter earlier this season.
And so when the Lakers faced the Spurs on Sunday afternoon, I — and some of Kobe’s other 2 million followers — read his observations on the game. A sampling — spellings Kobe’s:
I like how Nash is moving so far. Both teams a lil out of rhythm to start.
Gotta get to the block. See wat spurs r gonna do with pau and d12
Gotta keep the spurs offense in front of our d. They r great at penetrating and pitching to their shooters
#redmamba haha I luv that
@TheMontelShow spurs ability to change sides of the floor andget penetration is hurting us.have to pick up pressure, make them uncomfortable
What I would say if I was there right now? “Pau get ur ass on the block and don’t move till u get it” #realtalk
@LakerGangOrDie lot of correctable things. Lil strategic adjustments we can make. Spurs hurt us with quiet 5-0/6-0 runs that kept us at bay
Post. Post. Post.
This game has a “steal one” written all over it for us
Gotta milk pau in the post right now and d12. Will get good looks from it
Matador defense on Parker. His penetration is hurting us.
Nothing worse then watching your bothers struggle and u can’t do crap about it. #realtalk
Because this is the Lakers, and because it’s Kobe, it didn’t end following the final tweet. Reporters asked Mike D’Antoni what he thought about Kobe tweeting during the game and, rolling his eyes, he replied, “It’s great to have that commentary. He’s a fan right now. He’s a fan. You guys put a little more importance on that kind of fan. He’s a fan, he gets excited, I’m sure he wants to be part of it.”
A fan?? Lol #microphonetalk
On to game 2. I will be watching from the crib again in a pau jersey and laker face paint ha! All jk aside We will be fine on wed #fanmamba
Kobe eventually diffused the situation, saying he wouldn’t tweet during Game 2 because it was obviously becoming an issue with the media and he didn’t want to be a distraction. It was an inevitable conclusion, if not an ideal one. I enjoyed reading Kobe’s thoughts on the game, while at the same time understanding D’Antoni’s apparent annoyance.
D’Antoni can’t win with Lakers fans, even if they would somehow win the opening series. This dates back to November, when the Lakers fired Mike Brown and appeared on the verge of hiring Phil Jackson. Instead they went with D’Antoni and all most Lakers fans cared about was that he wasn’t Phil. The season-long struggles added to the frustrations and even the 28-12 finish didn’t do much to impress the fanbase. It’s difficult coaching the Lakers in normal circumstances — it’s nearly impossible when you have to coach with an 11-time champion who’s engaged to the owner smirking over your shoulder. An 11-time champ who is, yes, also on Twitter.
Kobe wasn’t the only former champ revealing his thoughts 140 characters at a time on Sunday. Phil interacted with his former player:
@Kobe was coaching this one. He was on the beam.
Kobe’s reply: I gotta do something. It’s horrible not being able to at least be there with them.
Phil: No, you were right on…it’ll drive you bananas to just watch the ship go down. Just one game down–get one road win.
So here’s poor D’Antoni — who coached a team that had a freshly shorn Steve Nash with a broken leg and bad hips and hamstrings; Dwight Howard with a bad back and worse free-throw form; Pau Gasol with a bum foot; Metta World Peace with a torn knee; a nonexistent bench; and a superstar guard who’s still great but not quite what he once was, who also happens to be stubborn, unbending and willing to say whatever he’s thinking at any time — spending his postgame trying to figure out what the hell happened and what the Lakers can possibly do against the Spurs while dealing with the cool kids in class sitting in the back of the room talking about what’s going wrong on the floor. You can see Kobe firing a spitball at the substitute teacher, except in this case the real teacher is sitting next to him and shaking his head, “no, no don’t do that” while slipping his hand down for a congratulatory low-five.
You can understand D’Antoni’s sarcastic reply, even if it wasn’t the greatest PR move.
At the same time I don’t think Kobe did anything wrong or underhanded and I hope he goes back on his promise to stay silent during Game 2. The game’s much more entertaining with his contributions, even if they’re half-a-country away instead of on the court. He didn’t say anything outrageous. Some people thought the “post. post. post” tweet or the one about matador defense were shots at his teammates or D’Antoni. I didn’t see the harm, and many of the things Kobe mentioned were simply things he’d be saying if he was still in uniform, only there’d be much more cursing. D’Antoni’s frustration was understandable but calling Kobe a fan was somewhat ludicrous, as if the guy who played 48 minutes a game for two weeks to get the team into the playoffs was the same as the 48-year-old guy sitting in his underwear on an old couch screaming about post play and a lack of defense.
There was something amusing about Kobe tweeting about matador defense when, for much of the season, he was the lead guy yelling “Ole!” as various wings decimated the Lakers because of Kobe’s disinterested D. Others might chuckle at Kobe talking about getting the ball into the post, when it’s often thought he’s the one keeping that from happening. In reality, Kobe’s been great at getting Gasol involved during the year and was the guy preaching all season that the Spaniard belonged in the paint, not out shooting 20-footers. When the Lakers did start featuring Pau a bit more, their fortunes started to turn, just as coach Kobe predicted. It makes perfect sense that he would tweet he same thing Sunday while watching Gasol miss jumper after jumper in San Antonio.
Ultimately — and especially since it seems Kobe’s done talking about the games during the games — the Twitter controversy will be just a footnote when the Spurs wrap up the series in 4, 5 or 6 games. The big issues remain. Kobe’s future health, where will Howard sign, do they deal Gasol? What can D’Antoni do with a healthy roster? Unfortunately for him, Phil’s shadow remains — unless he takes another job, but maybe not even then. Remember how difficult life was for UCLA coaches after John Wooden retired? Imagine if Wooden wanted to return to the UCLA bench — and was engaged to the athletic director.
As for Kobe, he’ll surely remain in the news, even if no one can predict when he’ll be back on the court. The Onion had an entertaining story about injured Kobe: Family, Friends Really Looking Forward to Next 9 Months of Being Around Kobe Bryant.
When he retires I think Kobe could be great as an analyst, whether at the games or in the studio. He’s one of the great students in the game’s history and in his later years enjoys saying whatever he’s thinking. Former players often struggle as announcers because they’re afraid to criticize players or coaches. Would Kobe, who’s never been afraid to do that even when he’s playing, have any problem doing that when he’s not?
That’s a few years away. For now we have Kobe the fan. Maybe he can at least provide some entertainment while the Lakers’ season ends without Kobe the player.