Kobe Bryant once again proved that he is one of the top (if not the best) players in the NBA as the Los Angeles Lakers trounced the Orlando Magic, beating them 100-75 in the first game of the NBA Finals. As much as Kobe has matured, he continues to prioritize his personal goals ahead of team goals.
The Lakers were leading by 24 points midway through the 4th quarter. To that point, Kobe has scored 36 points on 15 of 27 shooting. I was flabbergasted when his coach Phil Jackson, sent Kobe back into the game. Typically, a coach will put his star player in at the end of the game, when the team is leading by a large margin. Primarily, the team does not want to risk a freak injury that could incapacitate the player for future games. Secondly, at the end of a long season, it’s important to rest players who have performed at the highest level for long periods of time over the course of a grueling season. Lastly, leaving your star players in at the end of a game when you are already winning by a comfortable margin shows a lack of class. It’s important to insure victory; but running up the score to the point of embarrassment is not sportsmanly. I’m certain the only reason Phil inserted Kobe back into the game was to placate him.
There is one reason, and one reason only that Kobe went back into the game. He wanted to score more points, to eclipse his previous point total in an NBA Finals game (which he did) and to insure that he is selected as the series MVP (Most Valuable Player) in the event the Lakers win the Championship. Kobe took 7 more shots in a 4-minute span, hitting 1 of 7, ending up 16 of 34 for the game. An additional two foul shots gave him 40 points for the night.
Why does Kobe have this nagging need to continue to prove that he is the best? We’ve already seen him score as many as 81 points during a game. He was finally chosen as league MVP last year, for the first time. Barring a total breakdown by his team, he will win his 4th NBA title, matching Shaquille O’Neal and proving that he alone is capable of guiding his team to a championship. Let’s hope the script plays out as he has written it in his mind. Then, just maybe, he’ll begin to consistently use his talent to bring the best out of his teammates, and become the class act that will bring accolades to himself, his team and his sport.