Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Mike Kahn of Fox Sports

Kobe Bryant is electing to postpone surgery to fix his injured rink pinkie because he would miss too much time "punching the clock" for the Lakers. Mike Kahn responds to this news with typical journalistic integrity - by kneeling in front of his chosen idol and lavishing enough praise on 24/42 to make him blush. The result is so ridiculous for so many reasons that I almost don't know where to begin. I am momentarily, as a friend said, suffering from the decision.

Forget that Monseigneur Kahn neglects to mention that nobody who punches a clock makes 8 figures and maybe Kobe should choose a different colloquialism. Forget it because, to a certain degree, Kahn is right; Kobe has matured and evolved, beginning with last year's tip and culminating at the Olympics. Basketball fans would be wise to remember China as the place where Bryant finally realized that sublimating his ego for the benefit of the team would translate into a championship with the right talent. Seeing him play lockdown D while scoring when necessary rather than fixating on jacking up 35 haphazard fades and turnarounds to get his 40 was like watching a more elegant, refined version of LeBron James. Which makes a 27-year-old LeBron a truly frightening proposition. Bryant deserves all the credit he is getting for his evolution as a player and, frankly, as a human-being (if we are to believe what we hear about him, both good and bad).

Back to Kahn. He is right to give Kobe a mulligan for his trivial ignorance because of his maturation. Kahn is even right to laud Bryant for deciding to play in pain because Kobe clearly is still a huge asset and playing in any discomfort deserves praise. It would be easier to rest/heal and Kobe is taking the harder path. However, Kahn goes several long strides further. Astoundingly, he starts with Kobe's decision to forego pinkie surgery, albeit on his shooting hand, and ends up re-writing the Shaq-Kobe Laker demise. The trip is truly impressive.

Kahn starts with a self-inflicted, mortal wound to his own argument - he points out that Kobe's injury affected neither his performance during the NBA season/playoffs nor during the Olympics and wonders whether the injury is purely cosmetic. He then proceeds to juxtapose Kobe's decision with Shaq's regarding his toe injury. I don't know the extent of either injury or the factors playing into the surgical decisions. But on a fundamental level, I can see a hurt toe on a 7'2", 350 lbs. man being a significant problem.

On the other hand (ugh), anyone who has played basketball well can tell you that the pinkie, even on your shooting hand, is not really necessary. Broken, torn, jammed, bruised, whatever - tape it to the ring finger and let's go. Obviously, Kobe Bryant is a more finely tuned shooter than I so my own argument would be seriously flawed; no one knows how such an injury affects his mechanics. It would be flawed except Kobe's own performance gives us a good idea how the injury affects him and it bears out the truth of the matter. Kahn acknowledges this. In print. In the same article. At the very beginning.

But it gets better, or worse depending on whether you're Kahn or his editor. He then implies that Shaq's decision was responsible for Bryant's knee tendinitis. It is a hilariously irresponsible bit of sophistry. Maybe the psychological stress of carrying a team played a role in the injury. Maybe it was significant. Maybe a psychological burden is that analagous to a physical burden. What I know is that Kahn is just as unqualified (probably more so) as I to make such a diagnosis.

The coup-de-grace comes when Kahn concludes by saying that the latest episode is somehow relevant to the split that landed Shaq in Miami, that Kobe is redefining the matter. Hmmm. Let's review the indisputable facts. Shaq and Kobe win several championships, Kobe has sex with some polished trailer trash, she accuses him of rape (utterly ridiculous, should be a crime to fraudulently accuse someone of rape), Kobe tosses Shaq's name into the police interview/interrogation, Shaq gets traded, Shaq wins another championship, and Kobe is still working towards his. There are many disputed facets that shift the blame one way then the other, but Kobe's decision on an entirely collateral matter SEVERAL YEARS LATER is not on the list.

This is especially true when you consider - and Kahn acknowledges - that Kobe has undergone a substantial transformation since the split. If anything, Kobe's latest decision only confirms the general consensus that he was the antagonist because it is another example of his evolution. Such evolution implies the old Kobe would have selfishly chosen surgery (a questionable condemnation in itself) , consistent with a petulant, insecure-but-ascending superstar who forces his running mate out for his greater glory. Again, I say it's irrelevant but it certainly doesn't argue in his favor.

Kobe deserves praise for his maturation. He deserves praise for the crucial role he played in reclaming the basketball world for America. He deserves praise for leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals, where he needed more help than his team could give him. He deserves praise for understanding that there is no weakness in that. He deserves praise for ignoring Shaq's latest bit of rap antics. He deserves praise for playing through injury, even to a pinkie. He deserves praise for a lot of things.

Instead, Kahn gives him a lot of praise for just one thing. He virtually drools over Kobe in reverance. And genuflecting in front of another man while drooling is not something to be done in public, even metaphorically.

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