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For once, Lakers' Kobe Bryant lets the world in, even after the shot doesn't go in

Bryant drops his combative armor, revealing how personable and charismatic he can be, at an unexpected moment — after missing an ill-advised three-point attempt at a crucial moment in Thursday's loss to Miami. If only he'd show that side of himself more often.

March 11, 2011|T.J. Simers

From Dallas — I found myself criticizing Kobe Bryant in the morning newspaper — old habits hard to break.

But upon reflection, that's not what I was trying to communicate Friday morning. Kobe doesn't always make his shots, and in another stunning development, Page 2 isn't always on the intended mark.

There's no doubt Kobe played poorly at the end of the Miami loss. No question he took a ridiculous three-pointer with a bunch of time left to work for a better shot. And no surprise he wasn't all that thrilled with someone second-guessing his ridiculous three-point heave.

But in reporting all that, which still stands as an explanation for the loss to Miami, I realized two things were missing:

1. Debate his ball-hog tendencies all you want, but he is who he is, which explains why he's so great with a basketball in his hands.

2. When the game was over, he showed a side of himself too often hidden by his own intensity, arrogance and lack of perspective.

For years now I've been complaining about how unhappy Bryant appears while making millions, playing a game for a living and almost always enjoying success.

He hates losing, and by now everyone gets that. He's a competitor, but he doesn't need to make ugly, angry faces to prove it. He doesn't like most of the people who write about him, because as controlling as he is, it irritates him he can't always control what's written about him.

More than that, there just doesn't seem to be any joy about him.

Well, on a night when you would least expect to find it, he chose to reveal it. There were still hints of arrogance, of course, for some reason Bryant thinking he knows more about shooting off balance out of the corner with the game on the line than Page 2 does.

And there were several feisty exchanges, Bryant making it clear in rough language he doesn't care what's written, and Page 2 making it clear it doesn't matter most of the time what Bryant has to say.

For a moment there while we argued, I thought I was home talking to the wife. She's always wrong too.

Some athletes look upon reporters as stenographers, as if everything they have to say should stand unquestioned. But there's nothing wrong with disagreement between player and writer so long as the writer gets the last word in print.

Now on most nights, or really every night, Bryant goes into hiding after a game. His teammates meet the media, dress and head for the team bus.

Bryant takes his time, making journalists, who are on deadline, and his teammates, who are on the bus, wait. I wonder how much time Phil & Co. have wasted in their lives waiting for him.

When he does emerge from behind closed doors, it's with an attitude, a disgusted "yes" or "no" usually to the first question.

It can be a very demeaning experience for the one asking the question. It's probably as close as any reporter will come, though, to understanding what it's like to go one-on-one with him on the court.

Bryant is just not very nice, approachable or likeable. And before the e-mail arrives, know that most of the time he's dealing with a media horde that does not include Page 2.

When the locker room opened Thursday, he was waiting for the media. Maybe he ran out of hiding places, but he was right there. And for the most part, the attitude was gone.

Sure, he remained dismissive when he didn't agree with the premise of a question. And it wasn't his fault, he said, when his ridiculous three-point attempt fell short.

But the rancor was gone, replaced by the charisma that made him so engaging early in his career before he became so bitter. And as loose as he appeared, it had to have some impact on his teammates, who had just lost a big game — the next game even bigger.

Later he would return to the court to practice shooting. I can understand Steve Blake shooting until they turn out the lights. But what a sight to watch such a great competitor work to set himself apart from everyone else who plays the game.

If only he weren't such a jerk, and for those about to e-mail, we're talking about the basketball player here and not the writer.

When finished, instead of walking past everyone, eyes down, he just sat down. It was a night like no other, according to those who follow the team regularly.

And maybe you saw Bryant on TV, his shirt soaked in sweat, and a huge smile as he rolled with question after question. I hope someone took a picture. It'd be nice if someone showed it to him.

When was the last time Bryant appeared as if he was enjoying himself? OK, so maybe every time there's an NBA title-clinching victory, but that's a long time to be angry between grins.

It has taken time, but I'm more than willing now to accept him as a ball hog. He's not going to change. And at his best, there's no argument: He's extraordinary. At his worst, it's another Page 2 column reminding him every shot doesn't have to be ridiculous.

But as fair exchanges go, it'd be nice if he was willing to be human more often. I suspect it won't happen, but for one night it was nice to catch a glimpse of the charismatic guy I remember from long ago before he turned so sour.

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