NBA Humor Challenged
By now, everyone's seen the video of Kobe Bryant completely ignoring Chris Rock — arguably the funniest man in the world — as the comedian chirped at the NBA's best player from his mega-millionaire's front-row seat — right next to Kobe's spot on the Los Angeles Lakers bench. It's universally being held up as a sign of Bryant's supreme focus.
Which is sort of like congratulating a workaholic executive dad for pretending to forget the name of his first born.
Sorry, but what this incident — and especially Bryant's post-game press conference reaction to it — mostly shows is what a humorless jerk the NBA's second best player is (sorry if LeBron James had been gifted Pau Gasol to go with Lamar Odom, he'd have been in three straight NBA Finals too). Kobe didn't react to Rock because it wasn't in his script. The man has no off-court spontaneity. Have you ever heard Kobe give an interview?
Think of the awkwardly brilliant prodigy you knew in high school — the guy who could do one thing at an incredibly high level who was raised in unusual circumstances. That's Kobe Bryant.
For Kobe to play it off like he didn't hear Rock (who was literally within touching distance) only shows how being fake is his natural reaction. "It just comes from understanding opportunities not coming along very often and making sure you focus in and take full advantage of it,” Bryant said in response to a Chris Rock question (yes, he often doesn't actually answer the question asked too). “So now I just want to make sure we don’t leave any stones unturned.
Please. I've interviewed hundreds of professional athletes over the years and they'll all tell you (when they're being honest) that this idea of some Zen-like athletic focus that allows one to completely tune out a crowd of 20,000 or more is bunk — as real as most urban legends.
The pros hear you. That's why there are incidents with athletes reacting to fans every year. Some of them are just smart enough to pretend that they don't (even Tiger Woods dropped this charade when he returned for the Masters though).
So Kobe is either deaf or lying. You don't miss what Chris Rock's saying when he's practically screaming it in your ear.
Maybe, Kobe just didn't know how to react. More likely, he didn't want someone else taking away any of his precious spotlight. Whether the reason, he went jerk.
Michael Jordan would have turned that Chris Rock moment into a bit of funniness that lasted long past the point that these NBA Finals are forgotten. Reggie Miller would have made a second career out of it (see Spike Lee).
Kobe just let a boring blowout of an NBA game go on without any dash of humanity. That's your Black Mamba — Kobe's own absurdly chosen nickname.
Here's hoping that Chris Rock brings a bullhorn to the Lakers bench for Game 2 tonight.