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Human touch (cont.)

Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 1:02PM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 2:10PM
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What is interesting, though, is the subtext, which is what this says about Bryant, celebrities and fans today. And in that regard, hard as it may be to do, we should laud Kobe Bryant.

Not for what he said on the video (again, hard to endorse that), but for the fact that he said it. For the fact that he was being that which we say we want from athletes but rarely get: honest. We want this honesty even though athletes are rarely rewarded for it. Jason Giambi had the temerity to be honest, or at least come within a restraining order of honesty, regarding steroids and he's been excoriated. In this case, no matter what else you say about Bryant, it appears he was being truthful about his feelings, and forcefully so, on that tape.

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But that's not the only reason to laud Bryant. On a larger level, he did something else we claim to want from our athletes and celebrities: He talked to fans like human beings. He let down his guard, forgot who he was supposed to be and just vented, in a parking lot, with a bunch of local dudes. In theory, isn't this what fans want? Isn't this what every season-ticket holder craves, to have the opportunity Brandon had 15 years ago, that chance to have a real conversation with a sports star? To hear an athlete reveal how he really feels, for once, rather than spouting sound bites or corporate maxims?

This brings us to what Bryant in fact said. Because, in that snippet, we learned a few things. Namely:

1) Just how much Bryant yearns for approval and street cred. Most athletes wouldn't feel the need to explain themselves to a bunch of fans outside a shopping center, but Bryant wants people to understand his situation, to empathize with him, so badly that he feels the need to explain.

2) That Bryant may know more about team building than we think. Because, say what you will about his comments, he's right. The Lakers with Kidd, Lamar Odom and Bryant would be a dangerous team, the kind that might have pushed the Suns in the first round of the playoffs last season (or perhaps finished the regular season with a better record and drawn a more favorable seed, such as Utah's, and had a shot at a run to the conference finals). Bynum is talented, but he's two to three years away, and it's clear his learning curve does not jibe with Mr. Bryant's patience curve.

3) That beneath Bryant's wannabe Jordan facade, there's a real person. This 24-second video, as fleeting as it is, may in fact be the most genuine glimpse of Kobe Bryant we'll ever see. For his entire career, Bryant has tried on different personas -- the cocky newcomer, the MJ clone, the steely competitor, the scoring machine, the goofball, the reticent recluse, the tough guy, the mature team leader -- but none has ever seemed authentic. But here, as the put-upon star, pissed about management and hungering for a sense of complicity from fans, we might have a real picture of Bryant. Whether you like that picture or not is up to you.

Then again, this is only 24 seconds. If the video was somehow orchestrated by Bryant, or these guys turn out to be his high school buddies, then little of the above holds. But if not, and this was a genuine interaction, then for once, perhaps we should actually state it: Wouldn't it be nice if more athletes were like Kobe Bryant?

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