In Kobe’s Defense

If you think that Kobe Bryant is not officiated differently than other elite players, then you will not agree with the rest of this post. If you find that this is you, then stop reading now, or continue reading at your own discretion.

I learned a long time ago that nobody is ever going to completely agree with you. Even if they appear to, their reasons might be different. If their reasons are the same, they might reach a different conclusion. It’s impossible. My purpose, then, in writing pieces like this is not to convince you to believe what I believe. That’s impossible. Instead, my goal is to bring to light an aspect of professional sports that Laker fans have been forced to accept for the better part of the last five years and, in the process, vent my frustrations.

Proceed at your peril.

Kobe Bryant is not given the same love that other stars in the NBA are. That is not debatable. Any NBA fan will tell you that free throws average out. In one game, a player might get 15 free throws, and then the next night they head to the line all of 5 times. For Kobe, there are times when he gets there 10-12 times a game, and then there are times when he can’t buy a whistle.

Compare his regular season free throw averages to those of other superstars in the NBA and you’ll find that there is a vast disparity.

Of the top 5 players in the game (in my humble opinion), Kobe’s free throws attempted average is the lowest at 7.1 per game. The rest of the top 5 list goes like this:

1. Dwight Howard-11.7

2. Kevin Durant-8.7

3. Dwyane Wade-8.6

4. LeBron James-8.4

Even Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Russell Westbrook average more free throws per game than Kobe. Of the top 5 players, he gets the ugly stepchild treatment. Now, if you are one of those people who think that numbers don’t lie, then you should be agreeing with me. If you’re one of those people and you find yourself not agreeing with me, then don’t be ridiculous-stay consistent. If this were a freestyle battle, I would drop the microphone and walk away with my arms out as if to say, “WHAT!”. If you’re one of those people that think that there’s a story behind the numbers, then you’re like me-and it’s for you that I’ll continue.

There are always things that numbers miss. They’re imperfect. To me, fans and analysts who think statistics are the holy grail of sports analysis are the equivalent to real-life people who think that life is black and white. It’s not. There isn’t just right and wrong, or black and white. Sometimes there’s gray, and sometimes there are middle grounds that make things complicated. But following statistics and basing everything off them is more an indictment on the person who does it than the science of statistics itself (and if you’re ready to comment on how I am trashing statistics while using Kobe’s 7.1 FTA average per game, then refer to the paragraph above and save me the time of deleting your comment). If you take nothing from this entire post, take this: think for yourself.

So Kobe’s 7.1 number is not all-telling. Neither are the other players’ numbers in the top 5 NBA elite. There’s a reason that those players average more free throws than Kobe. Dwight operates strictly in the post, and at his height and weight, he’s an impossible cover without fouling him. Durant is a master at the swing-through move, catching his defenders with their hands on his hips and swinging through them to draw the foul. Referees have to call that. Dwyane is a fearless attacker of the rim, and that’s where he makes his living. LeBron absorbs contact with ease, due to his size when compared to players forced to guard him, so it makes sense that he might get a lot of free throws. He too attacks the rim.

Kobe is a jump-shooter. He prefers to shoot the jump shot instead of drive to the basket. At his age, it takes a lot more to get to the rim than it does other players of his stature. Let’s face it: defenders don’t typically foul guys who take jump shots. If they did, Ray Allen and Vince Carter would lead the league in FTA every year. Well, maybe Ray, but Vince would find a way to quit on whatever works for him and gain weight. So Kobe’s FTA is actually higher than it should be, right?

Wrong.

Kobe is a jump-shooter/post-up player first, and a driver second. He loves the three-point stance, but he loves operating from the elbows more. I’ve spent the last 10 minutes trying to find the statistics that show it, but that would be both counter-productive to my point in that I don’t want you to rely on statistics alone, and it would help my case because it would show you exactly what I mean with numbers behind it.  I’m in a pickle. Either way, I couldn’t find it. But ask any NBA player who watches film of Kobe (all of them) and they’ll tell you his sweet spots. When he is driving for a game-winning shot, he’s going to attack and gravitate to a right baseline fall away jump shot. Toronto 2010, OKC 2010, Portland 2011, Denver 2011 (all games in which he attempted a game-winner from that spot). In that Denver game, Wilson Chandler was able to do whatever he wanted to Kobe in order to prevent him from making the shot. Same goes for Jason Kidd last night, which prompted this post, albeit it was long overdue.

Kobe loves to post-up players at his position, and sometimes even bigger guys. It’s just who he is. Of the top 5 players, he and Dwight are the only ones who spend time with their backs to the basket. LeBron and Durant don’t really have post-games. They just turn around and face-up and use their speed. Dwyane has a nice fadeaway, but he doesn’t really do anything other than that with his back to the basket. Kobe and Dwight are the only two that operate in the post, low-post, and high-post. And, in this case, the FTA average fully reveals my point-11.7 to 7.1. That’s awful.

Flagrant foul on Kenyon Martin! Oh wait, that's Kobe? Play on, playa.

Even in games that the Lakers win, like @ OKC in March, Kobe gets fouled egregiously by Serge Ibaka in the last two minutes of the game and doesn’t even get a chirp. When Kobe does decide to drive, he doesn’t get the same calls that other players do. Look at the first round series against the Hornets. When Chris Paul wanted to, he got to the line at will. When Kobe wanted to, he got a contested jumper with hands on his hips, arms, back, etc. If Paul gets bumped coming off a screen by a big, it’s a foul. If Kobe gets bumped coming off a screen, it’s a play-on. And Kobe knows it. Therein lies the potential problem.

It’s near impossible to explain why Kobe does not get the same kind of whistle treatment that other superstars or guards receive, but I’ve boiled it down to these reasons.

1. Kobe is a student of the game. He spent his entire life learning every single nuance and fundamental aspect of the game of basketball. He studied the rules of the games, knows what players can and cannot get away with. He also knows the loopholes and does his best to exploit them. Just like he’s good at every single facet of basketball (with the exception of shot-blocking. He’s very average at that.), he’s learned every single facet of the rules of basketball. If basketball were a Major in college, Kobe would have a Ph.D.

Nobody likes being shown-up. In every single NBA game, Kobe enters into play knowing full well that he knows just as much, if not more, than the guys with the whistles. I’m not saying the other guys don’t know the game of basketball, because if FTA were any indication, they’d be superior to Kobe. But they aren’t. Kobe knows basketball, the referees know basketball, and the referees know that Kobe knows basketball. Like it or not, human nature is a factor when it comes to making calls, and people don’t like getting shown-up by people that they’re supposed to have power over.

2. Kobe is a throw-back player. More than any other guard in the NBA, Kobe has built his reputation on loving the kind of contact that comes with professional play in the olden days of the NBA. He isn’t afraid of anybody, and he isn’t going to back down from anybody.

Everybody knows this, officials included. And once you know something, you can’t unknow (coined term) something. So, asking them to ignore that he’s a throwback player and allow defenders to do whatever they want to him within reason is impossible. They can’t. Because of that, they treat him like a throwback player and every other superstar/guard like a new school player. Don’t breathe on them. For Kobe? Do the train on him, like Kidd did last night, and it’s okay.

3. Kobe is naturally passionate. He can’t tone down his level of competition or intensity. It’s who he is. In the words of Kenny Smith, “You can’t ask a lion to be a pussy cat.” Kobe is going to approach everything with the same level of intensity that he does the game of basketball. His desire to win is unmatched in the NBA, and that seeps into his interaction with the officials.

It’s true for anybody. They want to win. They’re going to do what they can. When talking to NBA officials, and I use the word “talking” loosely, Kobe rubs them the wrong way. I’ve often stated that I would hate to play with Kobe, despite my appreciation for him. I’m a huge fan of his, but I know that he’s one of the most demanding players ever to play the game. But what he demands of you, he demands of himself; and what he demands of both you and himself, he expects from the officials. I always rewind the game when Kobe is yelling at the officials. I want to know what he says. Things like, “Don’t anticipate!” or “Good call.” And then there’s the other one. My point is, if Kobe approaches officials like he does his teammates, and with the same passion and heat, then he definitely rubs them and their huge egos the wrong way.

Whether it’s possible or not, they need to ignore that. As people in positions of power, it’s their job to ignore the petty, trivial details and focus on the big picture. When there’s nobody to check the checker (we all know how David Stern feels about a balance of powers), things fall apart. Most of the fights that occur in the NBA can be blamed on the officials. Sure, the players take some responsibility-but it’s the official’s job to make sure things don’t get out of control, and to be able to predict when they will.

The same goes for their treatment of Kobe. They need to ignore all of the above, put their egos aside, and do their jobs.

Till next time.

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6 Responses to “In Kobe’s Defense”

  1. Sina Says:

    Those bullets in number order; 1,2,3 were probably my favorite part…why? Because it reminded me of Michael, granted, I might not have been able to watch him in his prime, but I sure as hell have seen highlights and Kobe’s passion, his intensity, and his knowledge of the game remind me of Jordan.

  2. Mq Says:

    This is probably my favorite post of all. I think even when u disagreed in paragraph one u build so much suspense in ur writing that any reader will finish this article whether they agree disagree or grey area. Also I think Kobe is hated by many and I believe he is one of those people that when he dies, everyone, including everyone that hated him, will love him. He will be a legend if not already. I confess I wasn’t a fan of Kobe for dumb reasons, ignorance maybe. I grew to respect him.

  3. Sam Says:

  4. Daniel Yi Says:

    Really enjoyed this article. Keep writing.

  5. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    Love this article. Gave me an insight to both Kobe’s and the official’s dilemma. I’d hate him, too, I suppose, if I were wearing black and white stripes.

  6. laron Says:

    I’ve always wondered what the reasons behind it would be. Interesting points; there’s probably a lot of truth to them.

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