SPORTS DOCTOR- King Kobe: Is the MVP more a curse than a blessing?
The NBA finals are on. At present, the Lakers have lost two games and mouths are agape. The man credited with single-handedly bringing the Lakers to the finals is throwing more curses than free throws. And why not? The Celtics, who ended last season as the league's second-worst team, have effectively hog-tied Kobe Bryant.
Expectations are high for the finals in Los Angeles. With home court advantage, people expect the Lakers to turn the series around. Actually, they expect Kobe to turn it around.
The tattiest blogger and the most venerable reporters agree on one thing. If the Lakers are going to win, it will be on Kobe Bryant's back.
Former Laker coach, basketball legend, and NBA silhouette Jerry West says, "He provides everything for the Lakers. He's carried the team this far."
He must have. An article in the New York Times of June 10 went on for nearly 1,000 words, and not one Laker was mentioned other than Bryant. Well, Sasha Vujacic was referenced in the first sentence– but then, nada.
If anything, the Lakers resemble the 2002 cast of Saturday Night Live. If Jimmy Fallon stunk, there was no one to save him. Tracy Morgan had a few moments, but how much could one expect from Brian Fellow?
Just like SNL needs more than one comedian, a championship team needs more than Kobe Bryant to win the title.
Robert E. Lee had Stonewall Jackson, Pancho had his Lefty, and Ricky Gervais has Steve Merchant. Kobe Bryant has—had– Andrew Bynum.
We know what happened to Robert E. Lee when he lost Jackson, and Lefty didn't fare well after the federales got Pancho. For all intents and purposes, Andrew Bynum is eating that Mexican dust, sharply dressed though he is on the sidelines with a bum knee.
Can Kobe be victorious without him?
The Lakers and Celtics are no strangers to glory, especially when they're playing each other. Their rivalry is historic (see Sports Illustrated). Both teams boast legends: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell– even Jerry West himself. Overall, L.A. and Boston may have more similarities than differences, one of which could prove prophetic for the Lakers.
Both teams have lost the championship with the league's MVP on the team.
Such an atrocity has only happened seven times, thrice involving the Celtics, and twice involving the Lakers. One involving both.
In 1985 Larry Bird was the NBA MVP, but that award could have gone to several players on either team: Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MVP of the series) or Magic Johnson.
The Celtics lost that contest, MVP or no MVP.
Four years later it was MVP Magic Johnson's turn to lose the championship.
Having the MVP didn't save those teams. Even with a deeper field of players than the current Lakers boast, it wasn't enough. If the 1989 Lakers couldn't win with James Worthy and Kareem to step in when MVP Magic was injured, how can the 2008 Lakers win with Bynum on the bench?
I'm not sure they can. Even Kobe is no match for Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe, and the revelation, Paul Pierce. Home-court advantage or not, the cheers of the crowd can only lift Kobe so far, and without Bynum's seven-feet shoulders to stand on, it's not looking good for the Lakers.
It's fine and dandy to be the best player in the NBA, but what makes a player the best also makes him a liability. Neutralize him, and the door to victory swings open for an opponent.
In large part, it's Kobe's own fault he carries such a burden. Years of envy, complaints, and demands finally got Kobe what he wanted: the spotlight.
Individual players have risen above their teams to win before, but more often than not, it's a pipe dream. Kobe may not be injured as Magic was in 1989, but he's hobbled nonetheless. Unless he can shoot from the paint with his arms tied behind his back, this NBA final could be more historic than he thinks.
If the Lakers lose, they and the Celtics will be tied for total championship losses while boasting the MVP.