Once Bryant was the prodigy who wanted what he wanted when he wanted it and O’Neal, seven years older, the one who knew which end was up.
Now Howard is the prodigy who wants what he wants when he wants it, and Bryant, seven years older, knows which end is up.
Not that anyone was ever like Shaq & Kobe, the superstar teammates who weren’t content to feud in private, trading haymakers in the press, as in 2003 when Shaq announced Karl Malone and Gary Payton had come for him, not Kobe… whereupon Kobe had Jim Gray go on TV to call Shaq a fat malingerer who wasn’t really a leader or a friend, much less his surrogate older brother, having failed to call Kobe after that summer’s arrest (other than to leave a message on his machine).
Of course, Shaq & Kobe always came together at season’s end… and stayed together for eight of them and won three titles.
We’re now waiting to see if Dwight & Kobe see year two and win anything.
This is Shaq & Kobe, upside down. Dwight and Kobe coexist easily, even playfully at practice. Dwight visited Kobe in the hospital. Kobe is urging Dwight to stay.
Unfortunately, if Dwight’s now too controversy-averse to say anything, his, uh, concerns about staying are Mike D’Antoni… and Bryant.
In his time with Shaq, Bryant was a concern for all his teammates.
In 2000 when the newly-arrived Jackson assured Bryant his day as a leader would come, Kobe—typically–replied he wanted it now, prompting Phil to note, “You can’t be a leader if nobody follows.”
Nevertheless, if Bryant had a lot to learn, he learned it.
Jackson, noting Michael Jordan’s non-pareil leadership in his new book, shows an older, wiser Bryant who “embraced his teammates, calling them up when we were on the road and inviting them out to dinner… as if the other players were now his partners, not his personal spear-carriers.”
Despite Bryant’s devotion to Jackson, Kobe propped up Mike Brown single-handedly, muffling teammates’ complaints so effectively, the story never got out.
If Howard arrived with a habit of yelling at his new teammates on the floor, from the demanding Bryant to the diplomatic Steve Nash, Kobe muffled that, too, supporting him throughout, even acknowledging to Dwight that he knew he was hard to play with in their team meeting in Memphis.
Privately, Bryant had his own doubts, asking why he was supposed to placate Dwight if he didn’t want to be here.
For whatever reason, Howard joined in after the All-Star break… possibly frightened back into line by all the talk from West teammates about the imitation of Kobe he did for them in the dressing room before the game.
The Lakers finished 28-12 with D’Antoni accepting Bryant’s pointed suggestions to play slower and sock the ball inside to Howard and Pau Gasol.
The tension seemed to lift, and Howard turned effusive in his praise as Bryant led them down the stretch before blowing out his Achilles tendon… and the Spurs swept them as Howard got himself tossed in Game 4 with Tim Duncan caught on camera, laughing at him as he stomped off.
That’s Dwight, always good for a laugh… one way or another.
There is no joy in Lakerdom now with Howard set to explore options like Houston instead of trusting the Lakers–and taking the extra $30 million.
Whether Howard has reservations about Bryant’s ferocity or his surgery, or the problem is really Dwight’s unpopularity, agony for someone who loves being loved… Laker fans aren’t sure which way to root.
That’s Dwight’s genius: At 27, the game’s best big man has yet to prove he’s worth all the trouble he causes.
It’s the Lakers’ version of the Woody Allen joke about life being filled with the miserable and the horrible… and ending too soon.
Dwight, we hardly knew ye, and we’re not sure we liked what we saw, but don’t leave us!
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