— Halfway through Ghostbusters 2 — one of my favorite documentaries — Peter Venkman and his brown jumpsuited co-workers discover a river of sludge flowing beneath Manhattan, an angry current that thrives on the negativity, hate and all-around awfulness that New Yorkers keep in the pockets of their suit pants.
I should probably put Venkman’s digits in my iPhone, because there might be a similar stream of Pepto-colored goo somewhere beneath my apartment complex. If I find slime puddles on the guest room carpet, I’ve brought them on myself. I've spent the past several days hoping that the Lakers’ playoff struggles continue, crossing all of my crossable parts that they won’t take home their third straight O’Brien trophy.
To anyone with a Li’l Lakers Hater card tucked in their wallet, their first-round matchup looked disturbingly lopsided. On paper, L.A.’s series against the New Orleans Hornets looked like a textbook David and Goliath situation, one where David (West) is on the shelf with a torn ACL.
The Hornets limped into the postseason with a three-game losing streak, and most analysts expected that the defending champs would tear through New Orleans like Nicolas Cage after several whiskey sours. And why not? The Lakers swept them during the regular season, holding them under 100 points in all four games while outscoring them by an average of 11 points.
Instead, Chris Paul inked West’s No. 30 on his Nikes, tucked a slingshot in his waistband and put up a stat line that should be etched onto a stone tablet. In New Orleans’ 109-100 victory, Paul shot 61 percent from the field with 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals. According to the Los Angeles Times, it was only the fifth time in the NBA’s 3,272 game playoff history that anyone had notched as many points, assists and rebounds; this was the first time a player put up those numbers on the road.
I loved all 41 minutes of Paul’s floor show, both because I’ve been a fan of his No. 3 since it was stitched on a Wake Forest jersey and because, again, I can’t cheer for the Lakers, not ever. Los Angeles could suit up against Hannibal Lecter and I’d offer to bring a bowl of post-game fava beans.
I also put Kobe Bryant in the Trapper Keeper that holds the other always polarizing, easy-to-dislike athletes like Alex Rodriguez, Chris Pronger and Shooter McGavin. Why? In Bryant’s case, it’s because he’s always been so effortlessly good ... and so unapologetically selfish.
That said, I can admit that Bryant has been all-time amazing, with a list of accomplishments thicker than Glen Davis’ midsection. He has scored 27,868 regular-season points and is one of only seven players with 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. Bryant may be the best all-around player we’ve seen since what’s-his-name, that guy from Space Jam.
The stats at 82games.com show that he’s been the league’s most clutch player this season (), defined by his performance in the final five minutes of fourth quarters and overtime games. The numbers also highlight that he’s been one of the biggest ball hogs, earning the highest usage percentage in the NBA; 35 percent of the Lakers’ plays end with Bryant either attempting a shot, getting fouled or turning the ball over. Potato, potahto, pohate him.
Bryant has also kept his locker filled with controversy this season, although not all of it has been entirely justified. He was criticized for endorsing a semi-automatic stuffed video game (a career move I defended: and unwittingly upset the Armenian community by appearing in a Turkish Airlines commercial. In both of those cases, Bryant’s negative press was more because of other peoples’ perceptions, rather than any malicious intent on his part.
Unfortunately his most recent incident wasn’t as innocuous, not at all. During a game against the Spurs, Bryant was called for a technical foul and responded by calling referee Bennie Adams a homophobic slur. A day later, Bryant released a statement through the team and was hit with a $100,000 fine by the league, a six-digit punishment he plans to appeal.
“Obviously, I issued a statement," Bryant said in an interview with ESPN Radio. “The concern I have is for those that follow what I say and are inspired by how I play or look to me as a role model, for them not to take what I said as … a message of hate or license to degrade or embarrass or tease.”
Should a man’s character be defined by one painful verbal misstep? Of course not. But Bryant’s carefully-crafted apologies — none of which included the words “I’m sorry” — suggest that he might be more gifted with PR agents than he is with personal accountability.
Los Angeles is only down 0-1, playing Game 2 on its home court, and nobody has more ways to win than Kobe Bryant.
There are just an equal number of reasons that I don’t want him to. Sigh. Who you gonna call?