These days you’d never be able to tell that Jerry Buss once thought he would have the type of loyalty-based, deep-seeded relationship with Kobe Bryant that he once had with Magic Johnson. What was initially a bond based on idealistic notions of a connection that would transcend Kobe’s NBA playing career has soured to the point where the marquee superstar on the Lakers roster tells reporters that the only way he gets a say in franchise affairs is if he embarrasses management into doing something.
On Christmas Day, Peter Vecsey of the New York Post published a column that went completely and totally unnoticed but spoke volumes about the current mess in L.A. Here is the tidbit that stands out most:
“Hopefully, management knows what it’s doing and will provide us with our missing pieces,” Bryant said. “Hey, I’m just a player. I have no input concerning anything that happens here. In fact, I learned we’d hired our coach from reading it online. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with Jimmy [Buss, managing owner]. Occasionally, I’ll cross paths with Mitch [Kupchak, general manager] and we’ll speak for a couple minutes about nothing really.
“I’ve never known what’s going on. That’s why I went public [in May 2007] and demanded a trade. When it became obvious to me that management wasn’t trying to compete for a championship, I felt my only recourse was to embarrass [owner Jerry Buss] into doing it.”
Kobe’s comments to Vecsey are grotesquely amazing. They’re grotesquely amazing in part because they indicate that the relationship between him and de facto Lakers boss Jim Buss will almost certainly not improve at any point between now and No. 24’s sooner-rather-than later retirement, and in part because they offer an interesting take into Kobe’s twisted perception of what happened in the period between 2004 and 2007.
Don’t forget, back in the good old days it was Kobe who almost exclusively had Jerry Buss’ ear. The elder Buss made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions in the early 2000s that he saw a decade-long Showtime revival in his crystal ball, one that was mostly spearheaded by Kobe’s stylish, aesthetically pleasing playing style. He saw it so much so, in fact, that he went so far as to side with him over Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal just to keep him in a Lakers uniform.
Kobe wanted P.J. and O’Neal gone? Done. Kobe wanted Mike Krzyzewski to be offered the head coaching gig? Done.
Anything Kobe wanted, really, Kobe got during that magical period before and after he eventually re-signed with the Lakers in 2004. And, don’t forget, that signing came after a prolonged period of him torturing Jerry Buss by pretending that he was interested in signing with the chronically embarrassing (at the time) Los Angeles Clippers.
Shortly after the 2004-05 season wrapped and the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, a very noticeable change occurred. Yes, the failure of that season ultimately netted the purple and gold Andrew Bynum, but something about losing in such humiliating fashion altered the relationship between Kobe and Jerry Buss. Maybe the relationship soured even before that, but it wasn’t truly evident until Phil Jackson was re-hired to the Lakers in the first of what would be many decisions where management didn’t put Kobe’s opinion above what they knew was best. Unsurprisingly, Kobe learned to love playing with Jackson and the pair went on to two championships and three finals appearances worth of success together.
Over the last few years we’ve seen Kobe’s chokehold on Lakers-related decisions slowly but surely complete dissipate. His infamous parking lot demand that Andrew Bynum’s you-know-what be shipped out was totally ignored. His own trade demands, after a bit of initial anger from Jerry Buss, were similarly dismissed. When he privately expressed interest in acquiring Carmelo Anthony for Bynum last year, his opinion was rendered meaningless. And, of course, in what has come to be known as the cherry on top of Kobe’s non-existent sway with management, he wasn’t consulted in the slightest on who the Lakers would ultimately bring on as coach following Jackson’s second retirement from the purple and gold.
Part of this has to do with Jim Buss’ increasingly powerful role with the Lakers. Kobe is his inherited superstar, not his chosen superstar. As such, the new Lakers head honcho feels zero loyalty towards No. 24 and hardly sees the need to develop any sort of relationship with him now that he’s in his waning years. The other part of it, though, has to do with Jerry Buss’ increasingly cooling feelings towards Kobe. If he wanted Kobe in the loop, Kobe would be in the loop.
Jerry Buss once envisioned a certain special type of bond between him and Kobe that for whatever reason never really materialized. Maybe that’s Kobe’s fault, maybe it’s Jerry Buss’ fault. Nobody can really say for certain. But what is clear, however, is that Kobe’s lessening involvement in what happens with the team is no accident. Him finding out about Brown’s hiring via the internet is no accident.
It’s interesting that he came out and publicly said that he has zero sway with management or any of their decisions on the first day of the 2011-12 NBA regular season. For about a year now he’s been doing it privately behind the invisible cloak of his ESPN connections like Stephen A. Smith and Chris Broussard in unnamed fashion, but clearly he doesn’t even care enough to do that anymore. The last time he didn’t care enough to do that, a weeklong radio campaign in which he demanded a trade ensued.
We’ll see what happens this time around.