Even though it has come to light that when he jumped over the Aston Martin it was just an effects stunt for a Nike commercial, Kobe Bryant was officially named the MVP yesterday.
It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts tonight against Utah. The guess here is he takes very few shots in the first half. That seems to be the best formula for the Lakers this year anyway, when Kobe only takes a couple shots in the first half, gets to the line a few times, but mostly spends the Lakers’ offensive possessions getting open three’s for Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic and dunks for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
But it seems like the Lakers can win any way they want now, proven when Kobe scored over half the Lakers’ points in the first quarter of Game 1 to get a double-digit lead they spent the rest of the game maintaining.
That’s the difference between the player Bryant used to be and the one he is now. After Shaq left, it was only occasionally that Kobe would get his teammates involved early, and usually it was successful even though L.A.’s talent level was nowhere near what it is now. But Kobe’s first quarter unselfishness was rare enough that opponents never had to prepare for it. Now, Kobe really could throw an alley oop instead of shooting a turnaround fadeaway. There’s a good chance he’ll throw a wraparound pass instead of trying to challenge a shot blocker in the paint.
I still think what Chris Paul did this season was a bit more impressive, because of what was expected of him and his team. On the other hand, Kobe’s been unfairly judged against the expectations we’ve all had of him ever since he was 18. Sure, he tried to look and sound like Jordan as a kid, but so did millions of others in the mid-1990’s. Kobe was just the only one good enough to keep those Jordan comparisons flowing for all these years.
That’s why Phil Jackson, who never seems to say anything without weighing the full meaning and impact of his words, said yesterday at the MVP press conference, “I don’t know anybody who’s ever deserved this trophy more … I’ve never known anybody that’s worked as hard to accomplish what he’s accomplished in this game.”
Jackson’s willing to deal with any future icy conversations with His Airness in order to keep what the Lakers have going. Like Kobe, Jackson’s greatest concern at this point is his legacy, and he really wants to beat Red Auerbach’s record of 9 NBA titles, and a happy, unselfish Kobe is what Jackson needs to get his tenth ring.
While one could argue Paul’s year was more valuable, nobody’s going to look back on this MVP award with disdain. Kobe won the award by a landslide, and that’s what people are going to remember. Unless the Hornets end up winning the Western Conference, that is.