MY KOBE PHOBIA

To Ko-be, or not Ko-be—that is the question.

Not a question, really, but a cheap and contrived way to evoke The Bard in a blog about the slings and arrows of outrageous sports loyalties. Apologies to Elizabethans and “Hamlet,” I doth plead guilty.

I’m no Shakespearian, obviously. Even less—much, much less—a Kobian.

Kobe Bryant is a good-looking, smart, reasonably articulate, remarkably gifted athlete who has performed stratospherically in a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers translating to world-class entertainment.

Yet…

Something about the guy just pisses me off.

It has nothing to do with my being a Los Angeles Clippers zealot, which lands me on the wrong side of the tracks in a city where Kobedom and Lakerdom thread the culture as ubiquitously as good weather and bad traffic.

It’s just that anointing celebrities as deity is usually unearned genuflection, whether it’s the bafflingly famous Kardashians or the late great King himself. I’ve been to Memphis on the anniversary of Elvis’ death and observed his gridlock of followers light candles and parade like zombies up the slope to his gaudy mansion where they ultimately disperse into the summer night like smoke. Talk about the Walking Dead.

One difference: in L.A.—the epicenter of over-the-top—Bryant’s parade is on-going. These zombies ain’t dispersing.

No wonder I’m Kobed out, up to here with ceaseless adoration of someone who in his final season is a shrunken hologram of the stratospheric force he once was. Years ago, in testament to his own lethal-strike capability on the court—so much for humility—Bryant began titling himself the Black Mamba. The nickname was a nice marketing strategy, and it stuck. Today, though, he’s less Mamba on the court than Samba. Other than rarely, he can’t defend, can’t move, can’t shoot, can’t do much of anything consistently but unwisely chuck air balls and give interviews.

A continuing theme on local sports radio: Bryant deserves relentless praise because, as someone said recently, he’s “done so much for the city.” Oh? And that would be? I’d argue that his contributions off the court remain elusive.

Yet the multitudes—his giddy celebrants, including much of sports media—continue pumping helium into the expanding blimp otherwise known as Bryant’s ego. It’s the only part of his game that hasn’t atrophied.

Sports media won’t let it go, especially in L.A. where local TV sportscasters inevitably—and lazily—cap their Lakers highlights with repetitive Bryant soundbites. Night after night, same questions, same answers.

His popularity is indisputable. He received by far the most votes of anyone elected by fans to start Sunday’s NBA All-Star game (his 15th) in Toronto. Earlier Bill Plaschke, the Los Angeles Times chief sports columnist, appeared to suggest that Bryant’s fellow all-stars pay homage by stepping aside and allowing him to become the game’s MVP. As in the scripted Washington Generals rolling over so the Harlem Globetrotters could follow a script and humiliate them without obstruction? That was worth a double take.

It turned out there was no need to accommodate Bryant Sunday. No one played defense on either side, giving his teammates as much free passage to the hoop and as many open shots as the honoree. He missed most of them anyway (the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was MVP) after a lavish, over-produced pre-game tribute only slightly less thunderous than the Pope’s welcome in Mexico.

Now look, I’m hardly a stranger to intense sports loyalties. Although no marauding football hooligan, I’m pretty much a screwball fan myself.

In addition to the Clippers, I obsess over the Kansas City Royals in baseball (KC is my hometown) and Oklahoma Sooners in college football (I’m an OU alum). I’ve learned to roll with the ups and downs of the world-champ Royals. But when the Sooners or Clippers lose, my pain rises above mere suffering, I’m devastated—sometimes sad for days and too anguished even to read the game summaries online or in the paper. Can’t figure it. These teams don’t care about me, so why do I care about them so deeply? And with the Clippers, feel it to the bone when they’re unfairly maligned, which happens regularly in Lakers-centric L.A.?

Half the planet seems to be starving, the other half dying, and I’m crushed when the Sooners lose a football game or the Clippers get thumped? How rational is that?

When a fellow Sooners alum asked me recently why I wasn’t as passionate about OU’s highly ranked basketball team, I told him the truth. I already have the weight of Sooners football on my shoulders, I can’t take on more despair.

Or Kobe Bryant reverence. Which is why my answer is “not Ko-be.”

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Published by

Howard Rosenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning former television critic for The Los Angeles.

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