There is a lot of money to be made in the sports industry for talking heads. These individuals know exactly what to say and how to say it. They specialize in irritating fans and saying things that will get under their skin. Why?
For one reason or another fans seem to listen to these public figures even when the things they say drive them bananas. The latest example of this is with the often controversial Stephen A. Smith. And when I say controversial I really just mean loud and obnoxious.
Now, there’s no doubt that Stephen A. has earned his place. He has a sterling reputation with the players around the NBA, nearly all of whom respect him. But there’s little doubt that Smith subscribes to the “I’m louder so I must be right” school of thought.
In this particular case Smith mentioned Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant being upset over the trade for Lamar Odom. He mentioned his personal relationship with Kobe and how upset the Lakers superstar is. Then he went on to say something else that certainly shocked most NBA fans.
“I predicted that Kobe Bryant will demand a trade, and I am not budging from that. He’s livid. I’ve known Kobe too long. He is ticked off. It’s not just because [the Clippers] got Chris Paul, which is a guy that he expected to have. It’s because Jim Buss seems to be doing the inexplicable. It makes no sense. It’s one thing for the team not to have improved [after losing to the Mavericks], it’s another thing entirely for them to regress. If you know anything about Kobe, that is the last thing that he wants to do. It will not be pleasant at all.”
Really, Stephen A.? If this seems like a case of a glitch in the Matrix it’s because in many ways it could be. But in reality, where Stephen A. currently isn’t stationed, it isn’t.
Let’s travel back in time to the beginning of the 2007-08 season. The Lakers were coming off a 42-40 finish and a first-round thumping at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Bryant was upset with the direction of the team and demanded a trade. According to Bryant he would rather play on Mars (Space Jam 2?) than return to the Lakers.
Four years, three NBA Finals appearances and two championships later Bryant is still a Laker.
There are all things we do that we regret when we get older. We look back and claim we were young, naive, or even stupid. Bryant has admitted to this as well. A lot can change in life in a span of four years, and we never stop learning. Part of the beauty of being human is the fact that our mistakes help us grow and change, molding us, hopefully, into better people. Bryant knows this. In fact, now more than ever, Bryant is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He has played more games already than he ever will again. Just ask Mos Def, it’s simple mathematics. But the more important thing is that Bryant is more mature now. And he has a team around him that is capable of winning, even without Lamar Odom.
Bryant is a player that is completely obsessed with his legacy, even if he won’t admit it. Players like Kobe know all of their stats, and know what they need to do to pass the next guy on the list. For Bryant the next guys has always been the same guy – Michael Jordan. And while Bryant will probably never reach many of the milestones Jordan set, it certainly won’t be due to a lack of trying. The truth is, Bryant’s greatest chance of reaching the all-important statistic Jordan set, meaning his six championships, is with Los Angeles.
So, Stephen A., where would Bryant demand to be traded? What situation out there puts him in a greater position to succeed? Just a year and a half ago, when LeBron & Co. teamed up in Miami, Bryant mentioned his desire to beat the best, not join them. Has the loss of Lamar Odom changed his mindset that much?
I doubt it.
The simple fact is the Lakers are still a very talented basketball team. And many of the reasons Stephen A. floats out as ammunition for Bryant resurrecting 2007 are way off base and completely out of touch.
There’s no question the Jim Buss era has been met with skepticism and questions. But everyone in the league knows the reason the Lakers didn’t acquire Chris Paul had nothing to do with Jim Buss. In fact, Buss, along with general manager Mitch Kupchak, put the Lakers in a position to acquire Paul. If not for Dan Gilbert’s self-esteem issues and David Stern’s unprecedented power trip we would be talking about Paul and Bryant preparing for the season in the same backcourt.
Whether Stephen A. Smith realizes it or not, the Lakers still give Bryant as good of a chance to win a championship as any other team in the league. Demanding to be traded would not only set him back in terms of his reputation, it would also put him in a position where he would be unlikely to win another title.
So when Stephen A. Smith says he thinks Bryant will demand to be traded I’m here to tell you I know he won’t. And while I’ve been wrong many times before, I won’t be this time.