Frequency in the “I'm Keith Hernandez” Zone: Bird owns this category … in fact, he probably had more Hernandez moments than any athlete in any team sport (peaking with some of his shot attempts in the famous 60-point game). There was one stretch during the '86 season when he was actually bored by how good he was, so he started using his left hand more (during one game, he took only left-handed shots in the first half)… I mean, Larry Bird freaking experimented during games. When will we ever see something like that again?
(from Bill Simmons debating Bird vs. Ortiz)
Valid question, right? I mean, really, in a league so competitive (well, in a league with one conference so competitive) that 50 wins might be required to make the playoffs, there is no way players are going to jeopardize games by doing something like Bird did in his prime. It would be irresponsible for the player and detrimental to his team, and such an act would likely earn him the scorn that Ricky Davis engendered for his self-shot chance at a rebound and triple-double. Well, you might think that…but you would be wrong.
You see, Kobe Bryant has done what Bill Simmons described Larry Legend doing. I saw him do it, live and in person. Right here in Charlotte. Kobe Bryant – the bored kid, burning ants with a magnifying glass – toyed with the Bobcats on February 11th this year, during his ho-hum effort to a pretty standard night for him, 31 points on 17 shots, 4 steals, 4 assists.
The Gasol trade was still a relatively recent acquisition for the Lakers and Pau dominated the start of the game – scoring 6 of their first 7 baskets and assisting on the 8th. With the early lead in hand, Kobe seemed to sense there was nothing to worry about and that it was going to be up to him to entertain himself. And how to do that? By making himself work for every shot he would make. Kobe Bryant made no dunks or layups that night – and the only breakaway he was part of (negated at halfcourt by a foul) would have ended with him leaping high in the air, deep in the lane, taking the ball under his leg…and passing it off to a teammate for the lay in. No cheapies for the Black Mamba tonight.
What Kobe did was wait: He would wait for a kickout from whichever Laker big man was currently being doubled in the post and then he would wait some more for the Bobcats defender assigned to him to recover, wait for them to get right in his face. Then, he would jump, release the contested jumper, then make it, more often than not. This happened not once or twice, but multiple times during the game…and after the second, I could not help but to think back to what Bill Simmons had said about Bird: “There was one stretch during the '86 season when he was actually bored by how good he was…”
Kobe was taking what I am going to call “just got a new basketball video game” shots – a long title that aptly describes what my offense consists of the first few times I play a new basketball title. After hitting a few buttons and not getting the desired result, I finally just force up a jumper with whoever has the ball at the time, no matter how well guarded they are. The thing is, those shots almost always miss in video games. Kobe was not. If it had been me playing someone in a video game, I would have been throwing the controller. But this was reality. He decided that a mid-season game against the Bobcats was the perfect time to work on his end of shot-clock/game jumpers. And he still made more than half of his attempts.
On February 11th, I saw Kobe Bryant bored by how good he was, looking for a challenge. And there was no one there capable of creating one for him, so he did it himself.