My reaction to this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend was typical at first. It was evident that NBA players actually do play some defense in the regular season. During the All-Star Game, the players looked stuck in the mud on defense. It was the Blake Griffin show, thanks to MVP Chris Paul, and LeBron James brought down the house.
There was, however, one wonderful surprise. Kobe Bryant was playing defense, but for some reason, it was painfully pathetic to watch someone actually trying.
Bryant is a strong one-on-one defender, but now that his Lakers are going to be hard-pressed to get the to finals, Bryant may have seen this as his only opportunity to go after Lebron James. And he did.
Bryant used tough elbows in the post game, quick feet in open space, and a key shot block in the fourth quarter to get in James’ head. James dominated the rest of the competition, though I am stretching the definition of “competition.” Again, the defense of the rest of the Western All-Stars was porous and unreliable.
Maybe “The King” James didn’t expect Bryant to come out so hot, but Bryant was winning his matchups with Lebron. There is a clear reason for all of this hard work at an All-Star Game. That’s right, hard work and All-Star Game were in the same sentence.
The reason is Michael Jordan.
MJ aroused Bryant’s performance. Jordan said a week ago that he would take Bryant over LeBron James. The quote echoed across social media, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and other news sources. So while his Charlotte Bobcats remain irrelevant (he owns the team), Jordan said something stupid and reinserted himself into NBA relevance. It was another one of Jordan’s desperate ploys to rejoin the game he loves. Let’s just say he’s got plenty of work to do on his Bobcats, and that at this rate, his team will never have a talent in the same echelon as Jordan or Bryant.
I bring up the Jordan comparison, because I wonder if Bryant’s performance wasn’t in the same vein. No, Bryant is not washed up. He’s still one of the top five players in the NBA, but he is not number one, and he sure is jealous of the number one: LeBron James. James’ shooting has stunned everyone, and he continues to be dominant in the passing and defensive game. Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, who is the only other player that could arguably be titled “the league’s best,” admitted that James’ streak motivates him.
So it wouldn’t be far fetched to think that it also motivated Bryant in this sort of odd way. Except it made Bryant look like a jealous high-schooler who just lost his girlfriend to next newest big man on campus. It was fun to see some defense at the All-Star Game, don’t get me wrong, but Bryant’s motivation was for all of the wrong reasons. I just hope he brings the same intensity and dominance to their next regular season or playoff game. My guess is that it’s not likely.