Against the Nets,
Odom had trouble inbounding the ball and neglected to call timeout with 13
seconds remaining. That, Bryant said afterward, led to a broken play and an
awkward Bryant miss as time expired. Bryant also brought Luke Walton into that
conversation, angrily pointing to a spot on the floor where he presumably
thought the Lakers' forward should've been.
In the loss to the
Cavaliers, it was Walton who had a hard time getting the ball inbounds to
Bryant on a last-shot play. Eventually he did, but Bryant received the pass 35
feet from the basket and missed a shot as time expired. After the game Bryant
said that Walton should've called a timeout. "I guess I could have called a
timeout," responded an uncharacteristically piqued Walton, "but it's a
48-minute game and we didn't lose because I didn't call a timeout."
Bryant and his
family have, at least publicly, lived down the embarrassment of Eagle. "My
wife and daughter are my refuge," Kobe claims. The Bryants are expecting
their second daughter in May. "Natalia can't wait to be a big sister,"
says Bryant. And that is all he'll say on the subject.
Off the court
Bryant certainly has his supporters. Earlier this year Bryant paid a visit to
his high school alma mater, Lower Merion in suburban Philadelphia, where he was
approached by a member of the girls' basketball team. "How come you don't
hook us up with shoes?" she asked.
The following day
the girls' team received $17,000 worth of Nike shoes and gear. Last month, as
the Lower Merion boys' team rode on a bus to the state championship game,
Bryant called the team's captains to offer encouragement. He also left a
message on the voicemail of coach Gregg Downer offering words of advice:
"The key for the kids to understand is: Refuse to lose. Period. It's one
game. Win this game. Worry about the next when it comes.... I'm sure you've had
'em working hard all season long. This is their moment to take. Just make sure
they go out there and do it. Call me after you kick their asses. All right,
"Look, I know
half the people out there think he's nasty or he's selfish," says Downer.
"But I'm telling you, there's a lot of good in his heart."
Krzyzewski, who has built his success on athletes with virtuous reputations,
has asked Bryant to be the leader of the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing.
"It's Kobe's time," Coach K says of Bryant. "He's 27 years old. He
should try to assume a position of leadership [on] the team. I would think he's
very hungry to do this. I see him fitting in very, very well."
Stern echoes that
sentiment. "I have no qualms whatsoever about Kobe carrying the Olympic
standard for us," the commissioner says. "In fact, I think it's
Nike had signed
Bryant to a five-year, $45 million deal just days before the Colorado charges.
According to Ralph Greene, the company's director for global basketball, Nike
never came close to severing ties with Bryant. "He never ceased to be an
intriguing basketball player or someone who could help us," says Greene.
"And we knew we could help him."