This is saying a lot, but Kobe Bryant has to be about the most tin-eared athlete of them all. AOL's the Fanhouse blog called him "the new Terrell Owens" Wednesday after his daylong fandango of saying he wants to be traded, then he doesn't. The whole thing was really an escalation of a tantrum that began over the weekend.
But Bryant is in a whole 'nother league than T.O.
They're both self-absorbed to an astonishing degree, but Owens is a fading star with clear emotional problems. He was never what Bryant is, his sport's transcendent superstar, arguably the league's best player.
Bryant comes off as reasonably intelligent, but after more than a decade with the league's most glamorous and obsessed-over team, after three championships and a fourth trip to the NBA Finals, even after the crucible of an image-destroying rape trial, he still can't figure out how to keep from coming across as an ass.
Even when he's right.
Bryant, who has legitimate beefs about the Los Angeles Lakers' inability or unwillingness to build a winner around him, spent the first half of the week threatening to threaten to demand a trade, backing off of that, saying he wanted to be traded, then backing off of that.
Then he backed off the backing off. Seriously. Four days into this mess, with Jerry West mad at him and the entire sports media saying he should shut the hell up, he went back to saying he wanted a trade.
The Los Angeles Times reported in a Thursday story that late Wednesday afternoon, Bryant repeated his midday Wednesday radio assertion that "I don't want to go no place else." That is, the retraction of the statement made earlier in the day on the radio that he wanted to be traded.
But the paper asked him if he still wants to be traded, and he "answered quickly and firmly: 'Yes.'"
Following this? The National Weather Service is going to host a Web site that tracks Bryant's trade wishes by the hour.
Along the way Bryant embarrassed and angered Lakers icon West by publicly lobbying for his return to the team once West's contract with the Memphis Grizzlies is up at the end of June.
If West had been considering a return to his former team in some capacity -- and there's no indication of that -- it would have been a fairly delicate situation because general manager Mitch Kupchak is West's protégé and friend. Bryant effectively dropped a bomb on that idea. There's no way West would want to look like he was coming in and undermining his boy at Bryant's behest.
What set Bryant off was an earlier L.A. Times piece Tuesday chronicling the chaos the Lakers organization has descended into.
One sentence in that Tuesday column by Mark Heisler angered Bryant. After noting that Bryant had been a good company man for three years since the trade of Shaquille O'Neal to Miami, Heisler wrote: "Nevertheless, as a Lakers insider notes, it was Bryant's insistence on getting away from Shaquille O'Neal that got them in this mess."
Bryant bristled at the idea that an insider was taking potshots at him. What's funny is that the rest of that Heisler column pretty much backs up Bryant's complaints. The Lakers have done nothing over the past three years to indicate they have the ability or inclination to build a championship team around Bryant, who is 29 and can't opt out of his contract for two more years.
There are serious salary-cap issues keeping the Lakers from making any big trades or signing any big-name free agents for the time being, and little reason to believe that current management -- a group heavily populated by people with the same last name as owner Jerry Buss -- would have any idea how to get those deals done anyway.
The Lakers had their hand forced in the Shaq deal -- possibly by Bryant, though he denies that -- but since then the biggest deal the team has made has been sending Caron Butler to Washington for Kwame Brown, an insanely bad trade considering the Wizards had sent Brown home at the end of the previous year. This is a guy who should have fetched a bag of balls, not a solid third option.
Bryant says the Lakers promised him three years ago that they would reload and try to build a championship team in the wake of the Shaq trade, and he says that's why he re-signed with the team when he could have gone elsewhere. Nothing the Lakers said publicly contradicts that. They rehired Phil Jackson the next year, which is not something you do when you're in rebuilding mode.
And then, two weeks later, they took Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick. A high school kid, a project. It might not have been a bad pick. He mostly sat last year and he held his own this year as a 19-year-old. But it wasn't exactly a win-now pick. Bryant won't be in his prime forever.
If there's any evidence the Lakers know what they're doing, they're keeping it well hidden. Kobe Bryant is absolutely right to call management out. But he should have realized, once, as Heisler put it, his initial comments turned the Sunday L.A. Times "into a special section on Kobe," that doing it through the media wasn't the way to go.
He should have known that by this time anyway, but he still hadn't figured it out by Wednesday when he kept talking on the radio, kept blogging, just would not shut up. Even Wednesday afternoon, just minutes after ESPN had devoted its NBA playoff pregame show to blanket coverage of the Kobe affair, he was back on the phone with the Times, saying yes, he wants to be traded.
How has he not learned anything from sitting at the knee of Magic Johnson, who's a part owner of the Lakers? Didn't he notice Magic's response Wednesday? He texted and phoned Kobe. He didn't go to a reporter or call a radio show and say Kobe needs to shut up.
It's impossible to know if Bryant has learned the big lesson he should have learned in the three years since the Lakers traded O'Neal, that Bryant can't carry a team to a championship, that it takes either another dominant player -- someone like, oh, Shaq -- or a hugely talented supporting cast or both to complement Bryant's superstar skills.
It's impossible to know because the Lakers have been lousy. Nothing could have carried these teams to championships, and it's remarkable that Bryant was able to carry them to the playoffs.
Judging from his actions this week, though, it's a pretty good bet that whatever you're talking about, if the question is "Has Kobe learned anything?" the answer is probably no.
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Spurs beat down the Jazz [PERMALINK]
The Spurs are in the NBA Finals again, doing away with the Utah Jazz in five games, capped by a spectacular beat-down Wednesday, 109-84. San Antonio's starters were waving towels by the start of the fourth quarter. The Spurs could have played the last 12 minutes three-on-five and still won.
The series was a spirited effort by a game Utah team against a vastly superior opponent, one trudging inexorably toward a fourth title in nine seasons. The Spurs will get either the Detroit Pistons or the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Those teams are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 5 Thursday night in Detroit.
Any way you slice it, it's going to be a Finals for die-hards only. That was all but assured when commissioner David Stern followed the rule book right out the window in the second round, destroying any chance the entertaining Phoenix Suns had of beating the stolid Spurs.
I'd love to see the NBA make a few tweaks this off-season to continue to encourage the uptempo style that has made inroads in the past few years, especially in the Western Conference.
And I'm not saying that because I don't want to see the Spurs win more championships. The Spurs can win an uptempo game too. And that way, more people would appreciate how good they are.
Previous column: Baseball's big cheater confesses
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