[This is a guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
The NBA season came to a particularly satisfying conclusion last night with the Lakers' 83-79 win over an aging Celtics squad. What could be better than seeing a Boston sports team lose, while simultaneously witnessing a completely pathetic effort from Kobe Bryant, the most unlikeable NBA star of the decade? For only the third time in 25 years, the series went seven games, and it was nice to be reminded of how exciting Game 7's are for viewers, even those who don't have a huge rooting interest in the contest. (The formidable television ratings prove as much). The game itself was exactly the sort of game that fans are not supposed to like, but the intensity level on both sides almost made up for a total lack of offensive flow. The Lakers, facing a depleted Celtics front line, probably should have put the game away early, but they missed so many open shots and free throws that they actually managed to trail Boston for over three quarters. Two things, however, stand out from the game and the series, and both are indictments of the abyssmal state of sports commentary.
The obvious point to make about a game like last night's was that, simply, the Lakers had a bad shooting night. It happens. But this is never enough for sports journalists and pundits. Everything must happen for a reason. Thus, it must be that Boston's defense was stifling (it always is) or that the Lakers were exhausted. You never hear someone put forth the theory that sometimes shots just don't go in. The shock registered by announcers who seemingly expect a team to make the same percentage of their field goal attempts every game continues to rankle.
And now to Kobe: Is there a less appealing sports figure (i.e. non-golfer) on Earth? His tantrums over the refereeing and his childlike behavior towards teammates were on display last night, and he put together the worst shooting performance in a Game 7 since the Knicks' John Starks (another charmer) completely collapsed in 1994 against Houston. And yet, because Kobe's team managed to win, the talk this morning was about his amazing legacy and clutch play ("the ultimate closer" is the particularly annoying comment most frequently made about him).
Kobe is spectacular, to be sure, but the pass that he receives from the press after bad games is astounding. Unlike LeBron James, who is pilloried every time he comes up short in the playoffs (as all great players occasionally do), Bryant plays on a team that is good enough to win even when he has an off night. So, he gets labeled a "winner" while LeBron is considered a "loser." Or take Kobe's rare human concession in last night's postgame interview: He admitted to feeling nervous. If LeBron had made such a statement, we would be told that he did not have the "killer instinct" of a Jordan or a Bryant. When Kobe says the same thing, no one bats an eye. "Give a man a reputation as an early riser," Mark Twain said, "And that man can sleep until noon."