He can spin it whichever way he wants to, but no matter what he says – Kobe Bryant wants a victory on Christmas Day.
Not only because the Lakers’ opponent happens to be the Miami Heat (who have unworthily generated more hype than the actual defending champs); or because the Lakers have yet to beat more than one team with a winning record; or solely in the spirit of Christmas. Rather, it’s a collection of all of those aspects, topped off with Kobe’s blood-seeking killer instinct, which is only satisfied by winning. But the fact that Kobe has an unparalleled, cut-your-heart-out desire to win, is nothing new to the basketball world.
While LeBron has quickly become the NBA’s biggest and baddest villain, it will be Kobe – not LeBron – who plays the role of the Grinch during the highly anticipated match up of the Lakers and Heat. Yes, his green nikes contribute to that analogy, however, Kobe will be doing more than donning Grinch-worthy shoes. He will be stealing Christmas away from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the hastily fashioned Miami Heat roster – and rightfully so, as it has become generally accepted that LeBron will not find his name on Santa’s “nice list” this year.
With that being said, when Kobe told Michael Wilbon in an interview earlier this week, that the outcome of this game does not matter in the long haul for the Lakers, he may not have been expressing every feeling that has lingered in his victory-obsessed mind for five months.
Go back to last season’s NBA Finals, where for the entire series, Kobe downplayed the matchup of the two teams. No matter how hard reporters and analysts bogged him with questions regarding the historical meaning of the series, Kobe refused to be swayed off course with distractions. For seven games, Kobe acted as if the significance of his opponent meant nothing; they were just another team that the Lakers had to beat in order to capture a title. However, once the series commenced and the Lakers were crowned champions, Kobe sounded a slightly different note.
Although this is just one game of an 82-game season , it’s hard to believe that Kobe doesn’t view the matchup in a slightly heightened perception. The Miami Heat are arguably the most hyped team to ever take the court; with LeBron and Wade (the second and third best players from the 2008 gold medal team) headlining Miami’s roster, why wouldn’t Kobe feel the need to win this game more than, let’s say a Tuesday night contest against the Milwaukee Bucks?
Echoing the words of Kobe, the outcome of the game does not influence how the rest of the Lakers season will play out. “We’ve gotten rocked on Christmas day and won a championship,” Bryant told Wilbon. “We’ve done the rockin’ on Christmas day and still won a championship.” Ultimately, Bryant is right; however, one help can’t but think that Kobe wants his Christmas present to LeBron, Wade and the excessively hyped Miami Heat to be a big fat “L.”
He has to play down the matchup because he can’t let the hype get in the way of his or the Lakers’ focus. Regardless of what Kobe says, expect him to come out with a fire under him on Saturday. Kobe lives off of games like these, and anything short of a win will be an unacceptable outcome in his mind.