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The Washington Post brings us a tale from Kobe Bryant, who visited a college classroom and answered questions earlier this week. During the discussion, Kwame Brown came up and Bryant told the kind of story that is at once sad and mockable. It is not the quintessential Kwame Brown story (either Jordan’s treatment of him or the infamous story about him buying new suits every day because he didn’t know how to get dry cleaning done take the cake). But it’s certainly up there. Video of Bryant relaying the story is available at the Post, but here are Jordan’s words, courtesy of Michael Lee:
“I got to say, it was tough doing it that year. I was playing with guys, God bless them — God bless them — but Kwame Brown. Smush Parker. We had one game right before…by the way, what I say here, I say directly to them, see what I’m saying, I don’t talk behind people’s back. Things that I say to you, I’m comfortable saying this to them and I’ve said this to them…But like, the game before we traded for Pau, were playing Detroit and I had like 40 points towards the end of the game. This is back when Detroit had Rasheed [Wallace], Chauncey [Billups] and those guys, so we had no business being in the game. So down the stretch of the game, they put in a box and one. So I’m surrounded by these players, Detroit players, and Kwame is under the basket, all by himself. Literally, like all by himself. So I pass him the ball, he bobbled it and it goes out of bounds.
“So we go back to the timeout and I’m [upset], right? He goes, ‘I was wide open.’ ‘Yeah, I know.’ This is how I’m talking to him, like, during the game. I said, ‘You’re going to be open again, Kwame, because Rasheed is just totally ignoring you.’ He said, ‘Well, if I’m open don’t throw it to me.’ I was like, ‘Huh?’ He said, ‘Don’t throw it to me.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, well, ‘I’m nervous. If I catch it and he foul me, I won’t make the free throws.’ I said, ‘Hell no!’
“I go to Phil [Jackson], I say, ‘Hey Phil, take him out of the game.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, let him figure it out.’ So, we lose the game, I go the locker room, I’m steaming. Steaming. I’m furious. Then, finally I get a call, they said, ‘You know what, we got something that’s happening with Pau.’ I was like, ‘Alright. Cool.’…That’s what I had to deal with the whole year.”
This isn’t really surprising if you understand the context. On the surface, yes, any professional athlete saying they don’t want the ball is worth commentary. It’s just not what you expect. If you’re at this level, you should be able to handle that pass and score unguarded.
But that ignores context. Brown exists as a punchline, as an example of how the draft can fail you, of how prospects don’t pan out. (It should be noted that Brown’s 2010-2011 season with the Bobcats was actually pretty good. He wasn’t great, but he was good enough to start for the Bobcats, which is an improvement.) But Brown more accurately represents why the NBA so desperately needs to augment the D-League. Brown was forced into a hyper-stressful situation immediately upon being drafted, under the eye of the greates player in the history of the sport, who, let’s be honest, is kind of a jerk even when he’s not being hyper-competitive. Then he was traded to the Lakers and expected to be the go-to center for the second best shooting guard of all time, who also tends to err on the side of “all-out obsession with winning.” Brown’s confidence was shattered. He was drafted for his talent while his skills were never developed, they were just expected to blossom. And the result was a player who didn’t want the moment. He was aware of his shortcomings, to a fault.
Arrogance is the most mocked attribute a player can have, even more so than a lack of talent. But it’s that arrogance that allows players to make the attempt on the play they need to make. It’s not whether that player can hit that shot, it’s that he has the confidence to take it. Him hitting it is the responsibility of coaches and GMs to find the guy who can. But instead of wasting the millions on Kwame Brown and being bitter towards him, wouldn’t it be better to work with him until he’s able to contribute?
But instead we’re just left with the punchline, feeling sorry for Kobe Bryant who had to suffer through that period with a player who didn’t want the ball, marking the first time we’ve ever talked about Kobe Bryant NOT wanting a shot.