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Kobe is a bitch, but he ain't soft

By Daniel Strickland on February 2, 2007.

Funk, I’m glad to have you back, but you don’t seriously believe that Kobe is soft, do you? Gregg Popovich certainly does not. Before last Sunday’s game, Pop said that Kobe is one of the best (the best?) players in the league on both ends of the court. I agree. But I won’t make that case here. We’ll have that conversation over a few beers sometime.

So why the one-game suspension? First of all, it was totally warranted, given the nature of the contact. But a lot of players commit more egregious fouls and don’t get suspended, so why suspend Kobe? Liz Robbins writes in the New York Times:

The N.B.A. has shown little tolerance this season for any action that is illegal and overtly ugly, especially with regard to players’ making contact above the shoulders.

Beyond the Knicks-Nuggets brawl last month, which drew lengthy suspensions for the primary players, Carmelo Anthony and Nate Robinson, five players have received one-game suspensions this month for overly aggressive physical acts.

Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, Golden State’s Baron Davis, Chicago’s Andres Nocioni and Phoenix’s Raja Bell have all been suspended.

Bell was also suspended one game for clotheslining Bryant in Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season. Bryant drew a two-game suspension last season for elbowing Mike Miller of the Grizzlies in the throat.

The league conducted an investigation and concluded that Bryant’s action was “not inadvertent,” first watching the telecast live, then reviewing video and interviewing Bryant and Ginóbili. Replays also showed Ginóbili being treated for a bloody nose on the bench.

It’s obvious to me that the NBA wanted to make an example of Kobe. But Kobe is one of the top players in the game, you say. True enough, but the NBA is no longer dedicated to “Kobe the product,” and there are other products they would rather sell.

The NBA is all about business, and the league has clearly decided that they would prefer to have LeBron James, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki as their model players, rather than an alleged rapist, no matter how talented he is. They made an example of Carmelo Anthony for getting involved in the fracas at Madison Square Garden, and snubbed him for this year’s All Star Game. I don’t think these are unrelated coincidences.

The NBA lost a big demographic by associating itself too closely with hip hop culture in the late 90s, and bench-clearing brawls are part of that association. The fights of recent years probably aren’t too well received in Utah or Dallas or Phoenix or Minnesota. Ok, maybe they like it in Minnesota.

There is also the perception that the playoffs are somehow rigged to benefit the big market teams, which has turned off a lot of fans. Ralph Nader and the Kings-Lakers series anyone? Making an example of the face of the Los Angeles Lakers shows that the league doesn’t let the big market teams get away with violence on the court.

I’m also thinking of the revised dress code. That was a smart move by Stern, to require players to dress like millionaire athletes, rather than gangsta thugs. Kobe getting suspended, the dress code, ‘Melo’s suspension … its all part of the same program, to clean up and repackage the NBA. And Kobe is a bitch ’cause he ain’t part of the NBA’s new marketing plan.

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