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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The Kobe Rules: A unique code for a unique player

The Lakers' All-Star guard works by a rather prickly and utterly effective set of rules.

April 27, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant avoid the block attempt of Hornets power forward Carl Landry before throwing down a dunk in Game 5 of their playoff series on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant avoid the block attempt of Hornets power forward… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Kobe rules, or Rules.

The Jordan Rules were Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly's principles for guarding Michael Jordan, which became the model for any team of mere mortals facing someone like Jordan.

Not that there was anyone like Jordan, until recently.

At 32, Kobe Bryant is the closest thing there has been ... as opposed to Kobe at 20 when he was hyped as the next Michael with ads for the 1999 All-Star game picturing them facing off above the Manhattan skyline, like Godzilla and King Kong.

Not that Bryant didn't intend to do everything Jordan had, but he soon tired of it, insisting he was the first Kobe, not the next Michael.

For better and worse, it's true.

As similar as they looked on the court, that's where it ended.

Jordan was beloved and, once he won a title, could do no wrong.

Bryant is enigmatic and, even with five titles, can do nothing that doesn't start an argument.

Tuesday's performance, which was either heroic or the old okey-doke, can't be truly appreciated without knowing what Bryant went through.

Of course, he's not saying.

The Hornets swore to a man it was a trick.

"Did you see him limp one time?" Chris Paul said.

Actually, someone said, he looked limited at first.

"What game were you watching?" Paul said.

After claiming he was fine, Bryant said, "I had a hard time moving and stuff like that."

Moving and stuff like that being important, he was OK when he could plan his steps — on offense.

If he had to react and cut, he was in trouble, trying to guard Trevor Ariza or stop the ball on a fastbreak when he grabbed Paul as he swept by at midcourt.

As for his tomahawk dunk over Emeka Okafor, Bryant said, "It looked like he was going to challenge me at the rim, so I accepted the challenge."

Here's what he could have said:

A lane opened up, so I had to take it. Then Okafor popped up and it was too late to do anything else, since I can't cut.

So I had to take it right at him and hope I had enough.

It was an amazing performance by an amazing gamer.

If our relationship has been as prickly as his relationship with anyone in the press, his greatness in general and on this night in particular is undeniable.

As Bryant joked to the press of his decision not to get an MRI exam, "It's not like we would have told you the results anyway."

He has a reason for everything he does, not that he'll explain any of them either.

After 13 years of study, here's what I've come up with:

Only Kobe runs Kobe: He can't trade himself (although he tried) or determine who they put around him (although he tries).

Aside from that, coaches, doctors, the press, et al., may propose, but only Kobe disposes.

Happily for the Lakers, Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson are on the same page ... even if it took seven seasons together to get to that page.

"I wouldn't compare them," said Jackson, who coached both. "I think Kobe's as good as Michael."

"Michael was used to coaching, and used to coaching that he trusted, so a lot of times, in conferring with him, he could execute what the game plan was."

Bryant coaches himself as much as he allows himself to be coached.

If he does something Jackson doesn't like, Phil can dare to take him out or let him find his own way.

Noted Jackson before Game 5, when he would, indeed, have to get Bryant off the court quickly:

"Can we get that hook from the Apollo Theater that I can use?"

Not that Phil won 11 titles taking his best players out of games.

Kobe is his own doctor, publicist, etc.: Now on his third personal publicist, he's concerned with his legacy ... but won't do one-on-one interviews with local columnists or the Lakers press corps.

He once went off and had knee surgery the Lakers didn't even know about.

This time he didn't ignore the Lakers' medical staff, just the part about getting an MRI exam.

"If it was [broken] it wouldn't have mattered anyway," he said, "because I was going to play anyway."

Kobe's future is now: These days when he does something spectacular, like Tuesday's dunks, he says something like:

"You know, I save those up. I don't have much more of those."

He knows he may not find himself at the head of the stretch with a team capable of winning many more times.

Kobe Bryant is now past precautions.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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