Brian Phillips on Kobe Bryant and outer space

In terms of watchability, the Lakers are a miserable team this year, even by NBA standards, and the pre-season rap that the (well, more than) once-great team was little more than an aging-but-relevant superstar loner, a largely unsupportive (and largely unrecognizable) supporting cast, and a coach not named Phil Jackson has borne out. Even the team’s most famous fan thinks these Lakers are a snooze-fest.

But what about Kobe this year? First, he was visibly upset about the dismissal of Lamar Odom. More recently, he was visibly ignorant of Jeremy Lin. Slightly more recently, he was the victim of Jeremy Lin’s best career NBA performance. The uniform he’s wearing this year is too big. He seems to lack context, even for himself. What’s his story this year?

Kobe has arguably reached the end of his prime, and while it’s fascinating to watch him hoop with somebody’s swooning great aunt, you can’t help but feel like the moment deserves higher stakes. Kobe’s relentlessness has always been his most celebrated quality, but this season, he’s starting to remind me of one of those space probes that somehow keep feeding back data even after they’ve gone out twice as far as the zone where they were supposed to break down. You know these stories — no one at NASA can believe it, every day they come into work expecting the line to be dead, but somehow, the beeps and blorps keep coming through. Maybe half the transmissions get lost these days, or break up around the moons of Jupiter, but somehow, this piece of isolated metal keeps functioning on a cold fringe of the solar system that no human eyes have seen.

That’s Kobe, right? While the rest of the Lakers look increasingly anxious and time-bound, he just keeps gliding farther out, like some kind of experiment to see whether never having a single feeling can make you immortal. He’s barely preserving radio contact with anyone else at this point, but basketball scientists who’ve seen fragments of his diagnostic readouts report that the numbers are heartening. It’s bizarre. He’s simultaneously the main character in the Lakers’ drama and someone who seems to have nothing to do with the narrative logic of the post-Phil team. Whatever the Mike Brown era is, he’s got no point of contact with it. Even Gasol and Bynum, his best supporting players, essentially just concentrate on not interfering with his flight path. Everyone stays out of his way, which is easy, because “his way” is a couple of billion miles from the rest of the Lakers.

So writes Brian Phillips for Grantland, in a piece arguing that the Lakers have nothing to lose by adding Gilbert Arenas right now.

I’m not sure what I think about Agent Zero these days, I do know that I think Phillips pretty much nailed it with that description. 2012 Kobe is playing like carry-the-team-on-my-back Kobe, except that he doesn’t seem too concerned about whether he’s actually dragging the team along behind him. Spike Lee’s Kobe Doin’ Work was about the 2008 playoffs, but the title might more aptly describe this season, where Kobe’s blue collar isn’t so much the value and virtue-laden, American proverbial blue collar as it is an indication that he’s merely punching the clock.

1 thought on “Brian Phillips on Kobe Bryant and outer space

  1. After I wrote this, I heard Kobe’s comments directed at the Lakers’ management regarding potential Pau Gasol trades, and the audio as heard on Mike & Mike and this video clip sounds exactly like it’s coming from space.

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