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Human touch

Kobe's video rant reveals honesty fans seldom receive

Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 1:02PM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 2:10PM
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Kobe Bryant let down his guard around a group of fans -- a rare occurrence for a high-profile athlete.
Kobe Bryant let down his guard around a group of fans -- a rare occurrence for a high-profile athlete.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Fifteen years ago or so, a friend of mine happened into a dive bar, took a seat at the rail and, after a moment, realized that the man sitting to his left was Dennis Rodman. This was back when Rodman was primarily a basketball player, before the gaudy hair, serial piercings and women's clothing.

My friend, whose name is Brandon, ended up talking to Rodman for 40 minutes or so. About the Pistons, about life in the NBA, about Rodman's teammates. Brandon came away from the experience not only a big fan of Rodman -- whom he described as "really down to earth," a rather ironic observation in hindsight -- but also with a story that, two decades later, he still delights in retelling. It was a moment most fans dream of: a genuine interaction with a star athlete, just two humans talking.

Nowadays, such encounters are increasingly rare. The distance between athletes and fans grows with each passing season and rising salary cap. Star players are more managed, better-compensated and warier of a public that often wants something more than just a beer with its hero. Besides, why hang with the common man when you can charge him $100 for an autograph or $14,000 for three days at a fantasy camp (the fee to hit with Pete Sampras or take grounders with Eric Karros at a new L.A.-based venture)? Especially when that common man may merely bide his time until you're four Cuervos into the night, then pull out a camera phone, snap off some boozy photos and post them on his blog the next day?

This brings us to the latest from Kobe Bryant. For those who haven't followed his strange saga (and SI.com's Arash Markazi gives a full report here), here's a synopsis: A group of college-age kids recorded a 24-second video on a digital camera of Bryant in a Newport, Calif., shopping center that shows the Lakers' star ripping his teammates and general manager. This is what Bryant said about Lakers center Andrew Bynum and trade rumors that had him going to New Jersey for All-Star Jason Kidd: "Andrew Bynum? F---ing ship his ass out. Are you kidding me? We're talking about Jason Kidd. But they didn't even want to do that. Now we're here in this f---ed up position." The college kids, who call themselves the Kobe Video Guys (apparently, the Shameless Opportunists was taken), are trying to sell the footage online, with a goal of raking in at least $100,000.

Both sides come off poorly in the situation. Bryant's comments are petty and backstabbing (can you imagine Tim Duncan ripping his teammates like that to a bunch of fans on the street?) and the "videographers," in their quest to remain anonymous and sell out to the media, give the impression of being not only greedy but -- and this may be a bigger sin in hi-tech America these days -- also quite na´ve.

On the surface, the situation doesn't seem that unusual. After all, this video is no different from any number of celebrity-baiting exercises, from Paris Hilton's low-res, hi-skin tape to Tommy Lee's legend-making camcorder stint. As for the video kids, they are only doing what pro athletes do so effectively, namely trying to leverage any advantage to maximum profit.

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