Kobe Bryant compliments former WSU star Damian Lillard regarding All-Star selections

Jan 25 2014 - 11:30pm

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Kobe Bryant might well be the most hated man in the NBA. When he plays games at EnergySolutions Arena, Jazz fans boo him each time he touches the ball and the reality is, the same thing happens in every arena he visits.

But it's OK, he actually seems to enjoy the recognition. In fact, he takes a certain pleasure in irritating opposing fans, just because he can.

And yet he recently made a statement that was the exact opposite of irritating. It was refreshing.

Bryant, who has played only six games this season, advised fans voting for the NBA's All-Stars to keep his name off their ballots.

"I really enjoy watching what the younger guys are doing and how they're performing," Bryant said in December. "Even though there's so much respect from me to be able to go out there and play for the fans, I'd much rather see the young guys play in the game because they've obviously put the work in to be in it. I'd much rather go out there and see them participate."

And here's the part Top of Utah hoop fans surely liked: When Bryant said "young guys" he was talking about Portland's Damian Lillard, the former Weber State star who won the Rookie of the Year award last season.

"My advice would be to focus on these younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be playing on that weekend,"

Unfortunately, the fans didn't listen to Kobe. Last week, when the NBA announced its 2014 All-Star starters, there was Bryant's name listed among Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love on the Western Conference team.

"With all due respect to the fans who voted me in, and I certainly appreciate that ... but you've got to do the right thing as well," Bryant said last Thursday. "My feeling is you've got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in."

I couldn't agree more. Bryant, 35, is among the greatest to ever play in the NBA and his will to win is legendary - but he no more deserves to be an All-Star this year than I do.

OK, that last part was a bit of a stretch. Still, it's ridiculous that Kobe, who missed the first 19 games this season while recovering from a torn Achilles and the last 19 with a fractured tibia, would be voted among the Western Conference All-Stars.

As a sports fan, my initial reaction is to demand something be done to fix not only the NBA's All-Star voting but indeed all fan-based voting in every sports league. After all, this sort of thing seems to happen all the time, largely because most fans vote with their hearts, not their brains.

But I realize I'm overreacting, that I'm taking it all a bit too seriously.

Before Saturday's Jazz-Wizards game, Washington coach Randy Wittman helped talk me off the ledge.

"Fans are gonna vote (for) who they want to vote," he said. "That's the thing about fan voting. Every fan out there, I'm sure, has a favorite player - and they vote for them."

Wittman said he appreciated Bryant's desire to get votes for younger players like Lillard, but he wasn't about to lose sleep over the fact fans didn't listen to him.

"There's really nothing you can do about it when it's in the hands of the fans," he said.

Wittman's young point guard, John Wall, deserves to be an All-Star, just as Lillard does. And when asked about that, the veteran coach patiently reemphasized his point.

"You can't worry about it," he said. "I try to get our guys to worry about what they can control. And what they can control is how they play on the floor, how they improve, how they develop."

Apparently there's a lot of good advice floating around the NBA these days. Bryant's advice to the fans about voting for young guys like Lillard - it really is pretty cool that he mentioned him, specifically - was spot on. And it turns out Wittman's was too.

If you think about it, what they said can be applied to all of us, in all our lives.

Basically, it's this: Don't fret, worry about the things within your own control; and while you're at it, be considerate of others and by all means, be nice to the kids.

 

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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