If Jerry West is "Mr. Clutch," then Kobe Bryant is "Mr. Automatic."
While Luke Walton and Kobe Bryant were no doubt keys to the Lakers' win in Game 2, Shaq's free throw with 30 seconds to play in regulation set up that win. If we malign him for missing free throws, then we must praise him for sinking the biggest one of this season.
Of the four-letter words used to describe this never-ending Laker soap opera -- Shaq, Kobe, Phil, Gary, Karl, Fish, Rush -- add one more: Luke.
In an ever-changing world, it's nice to know that there's at least one constant: Red Auerbach's lack of class.
I used to admire Gary Payton, and fear him as a Laker opponent. He was competitive, gritty, clutch, and I dreamed about how great it would be to have him on our side instead of torching the Lakers time and again. After a season of whining, moping, failing to deliver when the team needed him, and scowling on the bench when Derek Fisher took his minutes, I now see him as the perfect example of everything that's wrong with today's megalomaniacal athlete.
On the flip side, I used to despise Karl Malone. Watching from the wrong side of the court, I felt he was a cheap, dirty player. One season of seeing him be a constant pillar on the Lakers, tough, consistent and probably the most team-oriented player I've ever watched, happy to pass and defend rather than worry about personal glory, I've become a huge fan of his.
But the real measure of the two men is the diametrically opposed manner in which they handle adversity. While Payton scoots out of the room, promising to be back in a minute, then slinks out of the building to duck the hard questions, Malone sits at his locker and takes all comers, the first to criticize himself, accepting too much blame for a team defeat. That, to me, separates the Man from the spoiled little boy.