It is only but one game, so it doesn't mean much because weird and random things happen all the time at the end of close games, as Kobe Bryant can tell you. He went 6 for 24 in his last Game 7, but further cemented his legacy as Winner Guy anyway because crazy and disjointed Ron Artest, who didn't fit with the champion Lakers then and still doesn't really fit with them now, bailed Fearless 6-for-24 Assassin out at the end. Artest, uncommonly honest and much less interested in image and mythology than Bryant is, admitted afterward that he was totally terrified before and during that game, though he said his psychologist helped soothe him.
Bryant has played in about 1,000 games bigger than the one he just lost in Miami last week, and his legacy is secure because of how well he has done in many of them -- and because (and this is not a small thing) he also had the good fortune of playing with Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol, without whom he made many an early playoff exit and even demanded to be traded. So the fact that he happened to lose this one against a desperate Miami team wasn't very telling or interesting. But what happened afterward certainly was.
Bryant made a big show of showing us how much he cares. Or, rather, we made a big show of showing you how much he cares. Whatever. Either way, whether it is the myth-makers feeding on their own, or Bryant knowing exactly how and what to feed them, the whole thing played out as clunky and plastic and forced as when Bryant recruited Spike Lee to carve out a similar narrative in the ESPN film with the actual and amazing name of Kobe Doin' Work.
What happened to the "g" in Doing? Kobe killed it, of course, with his throbbin' and pulsatin' work ethic. I like the Robert Rodriguez commercials saluting Bryant as the action-hero Black Mamba so much better. (Those are at least fake without the disguise.)
This make me the jerk, of course. Who doesn't believe in the value of hard work? How can anyone who loves sports and loves champions and loves America possibly find anything wrong with a famous multimillionaire caring so much about his craft, still, after all these years, that he would spend an extra 90 minutes after a loss shooting in the same arena where he had just lost?
Only a jerk would point that he didn't do this after losing at Cleveland or Memphis or any of the other times there were a lot fewer cameras around. Only a jerk would point that, if he cared to sculpt in private, there was another gym in this same arena where the myth-makers aren't allowed that he could have used to be all alone with just his pain and work ethic. Only a jerk would suggest that maybe Bryant did this because of how much media was around for this game -- and, because his actual work during the game didn't produce the desired narrative, he somehow figured out a way to get it 90 minutes after both teams had gone home.
Not even Michael Jordan, Bryant's patron saint, pulled that one off in his career -- somehow still winning immediately after losing.
"I want what all men want," Kobe texted Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski after his midnight workout. "I just want it more."
Seriously. He quoted Achilles, a great war hero from Greek mythology. Achilles was famous for his prowess in the battlefield and central to Homer's Iliad , otherwise known as Achilles Doin' Work. Hubris and pride and anger helped kill Achilles, who was weak in a place he could not see. Sometimes, after losing battles, Achilles would also text reporters.
Wanting it more didn't keep Bryant from going 6 for 24 in that Game 7, right? And it didn't keep him from losing this week to all those Miami players who didn't want as much as he allegedly did because, as I said, weird stuff happens all the time in late and close games. But let's remove the randomness and the cynicism.
Let's put in its place a purity of purpose. Let's say that Bryant really was just putting in extra work to simply improve his game and not his image -- though the cynic in me can't help but point out that, if that were the case, he would have been working for 90 extra minutes on his passing . But if Bryant's motives were indeed pure -- and it can be a little of both, by the way, that he wanted the extra work for good reasons but also wanted the extra work noticed -- we're still left with the following as Kobe's Achilles' heel:
Bryant was taking all those jumpers afterward because he is trying to put off the ravages of age through will, which has always conquered for him. All he did during that loss was take jumpers. Dwayne Wade, pretty willful and athletic, too, kept Bryant from the basket and didn't foul him. This happens as you age. Happened to Jordan. Will happen to Wade. Your game ages, too. Your game becomes reliant on jump shots because getting to the rim is for young people.
The Heat would have let Bryant take those 40-foot jumpers for as long as he wanted, even as he made some of them. Wade wasn't going to foul him unless he went to the rim. No going for pump fakes, either. Wade was going to make Bryant make jumpers, not free throws. By the fourth quarter, because Bryant is older, because Wade is almost as good but younger, all Wade did was go to the rim, and right by Kobe to do so, getting all high-percentage shots, tilting the randomness-of-late-game odds in his favor by playing percentages as Bryant continued to chuck from far away. The shame of that, in one of those Vengeance Games for Assassin Guy -- a game so important to Black Mamba that he told his teammates not to go out on South Beach the night before --made Bryant stew in his own misery afterward for 90 minutes and nurse his aging weapon as we all watched.
And what you saw, in the darkness except for all those lights, alone after midnight except for all those cameras, was Achilles getting older ... and thinking he can will that away.