I wanted to write this column Thursday night, immediately after Boston’s Game 7 loss in L.A.
But then it occurred to me that perhaps I was overreacting, being a sore loser. I decided to let the steam blow off, and four days later, I've made two conclusions:
1. I’m from Boston. Being bitter is just what we do.
2. Kobe Bryant is overrated.
On the first point, I’d say it requires little defense. Just spend a day driving in Boston.
On the second, there is much more need for explanation and evidence. Kobe, after all, just won his fifth NBA championship. He’s averaging 25 points a game for his career and is no doubt one of the greatest shot-makers ever to play the game.
How, then, can he be overrated?
It's because he simply doesn’t live up to the god-like status the NBA, its TV analysts and far too many bandwagon fans bestow upon him.
Before Game 7 ended, ABC ran a spot at halftime entitled, "Kobe’s legacy" (terrible idea, by the way — doesn’t the NBA realize that half its viewers were rooting for Boston and changed the channel when they saw that?). After the win, The Associated Press headline read, "Bryant, Artest rally Lakers to 16th championship." ESPN immediately plastered a shot of Kobe on the home page of its website.
Throughout the series, meanwhile, Mike Breen did all he could not to run on the floor and kiss Kobe on the mouth, while Mark Jackson rattled off such travesties as "Kobe, or not Kobe?" (I still think that merits a suspension).
America’s basketball world, in short, has a love affair with Kobe.
And the man simply fell short of the craze throughout the Finals. Take a look at his stats: Eight rebounds and 28.6 points a game are the only impressive numbers, and the latter took him a ridiculous 23 shots and nine free throws each outing to accomplish. That ball-hoggery explains the meager 3.9 assists, 32 percent 3-point-shooting and almost four turnovers per game that came with all the poor decision-making.
His stats in Game 7? Even more enlightening: 23 points on 6-of-24 shooting (that’s 25 percent), including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, with just two assists and four turnovers. His plus-minus ratio: 0.
Game 7 of one of the biggest rivalries in sports, on the biggest stage possible, and Bryant laid an egg.
In two of the other games that mattered most, Kobe again didn't show up, going 8-for-20 in Game 2 (21 points) and choking down the stretch in Game 5, missing his final three shots in the last and decisive eight minutes.
In those two games, Kobe's combined plus-minus ratio: minus-15.
Cut it any way you like — those are not MVP-caliber numbers.
Pau Gasol, on the other hand, shot 48 percent from the field (19 points), logged 11.6 boards and 2.6 blocks a game, and averaged as many assists as Kobe (a guard!). Granted, Gasol's one of the biggest floppers in the league, and I don't think anyone in Boston minds seeing him get robbed — but Ostrich Man didn't just get robbed of the Finals MVP. He was brought out back, mugged and then pistol-whipped by a league full of Kobe apologists.
That overestimation of Bryant extends far beyond the 2010 Finals. This is a guy who played second fiddle to Shaquille O'Neal (one of the greatest centers ever) for three titles, then wallowed in whiny, self-serving misery for three seasons until the Lakers' brass handed him another gift in Gasol, who by 2008 (Kobe's first title appearance after a loss in 2003) had become one of the best big men in the game.
Take it all together: Three titles with the best big man in the game, followed by two more with, again, the best big man in the game. Without that help, Kobe's Lakers went a miserable 121-125 from 2004 to 2007, never making it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Put it this way: If you took Scottie Pippen off the Bulls, Michael Jordan would have done far better than that.
The point of all this is not to argue that Kobe isn't great. He is. But he's not all-time great — at least not to the extent the TV analysts, sports writers and (most of all) Kobe would have you believe. He's a competitor and an excellent playmaker who shoots too often, passes too little and whined just enough to get the teammates he needed.