With vast apologies to The Ghost of Charles Dickens, I set about to explain the reason for the complete sea-change in the the attitude and demeanor of Kobe Bryant. His approach is so very different from The Kobe of Yore, despite his actual play being simply dreadful most nights.
Kobe's visit to Houston produced a moment of rich nostalgia for former bangwagoneers who own The Only Lakers Jersey Sold to The Public in the 21st Century. Kobe's surprisingly effective night produced a vintage stat line in an ultimately fruitless showing, for which I am doubly grateful. This is a parting gift, or a parting shot, at or to, a player I've loved to hate, and perhaps, in a (very) small way, hated to love.
The game, the Retirement Frenzy, and The New Kobe, set my Forge Fire of Creativity ablaze, or at least got The Dumpster Fire of Cheap Comedy to smolder toxically. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know if you want to read more. I, like Dickens, would love to get paid by the word...or at all.
A Kobe Karol
On a bleak, biting, backstabbing but perfectly sunny and comfortable day in Los Angeles, the eye is drawn to a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, and covetous old sinner known to all as Kobe Bean Bryant. His flinty heart is glad that he will ply his cantankerous quondam trade on Christmas Day, but embittered that the game is to be the last one of the Big Holiday Extravaganza, quite late at night. It will commence at 7 pm Pacific Time, when doubtless much of the East Coast will be snug abed.
"Humbug! A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket. Not the noon start! Nor even the 3pm! I shall be deprived of my audience, and what is worse, my audience shall be deprived of me! They shall suffer the lack more than I, assuredly! Attend me, young wastrel!"
He directs these remarks to the bearer of the sobriquet Swaggy P, not noting that the altogether inadequate little guard is listening to what he refers to as "his music" by means of Head Phones, and thereby hears nothing of his elder's Admonitory Remarks.
Kobe continues on in this vein for some long while, taking the indifferently rhythmic bobs of Swaggy's head as assent to his withering invective contra: Lord David Stern, his Plausible Sniveling Clerk, A. Silver, the replay rules, the obstinacy of Coach Byron Scott, the notable decline in pulchritude of The Laker Girls, back to backs, The Media Cycle, the Odious Work Ethic of Today's Youth, and incongruously, French Theory.
Two former NBA players, insignificant and failed men, whose names Kobe does not remember, inveigle him for a Christmas donation to the NBA Cares charity on his way out the building.
"Bah, Humbug! Christmas is for Television, and Television is for me to do just as I please, upon the Television. The NBA may Care, sirs, but I assuredly do not. I am a hard man of business and giving is not for me! No one ever gave me anything! Not my father, not Jerry West, not The Mysterious Force Field, nor even the Buss family. I profitably pass my days Doing Work, and earn all I desire!"
The two men attempt a response, but are shouted down.
"I do not, as you seem wont to do, graft upon my betters, for I have none. That, sirs, is what Doing Work brings! Be on your way, now, and do not tarry. I see by your advancing age that you shall not be improving upon your career totals by means of Doing Work, as I should otherwise propose. Thus, I have no tutelage for you! Not for Work you are too decrepit to Do! Good day, sirs! Christmas spirit, indeed. Humbug!"
Doctor Julius Irving and Sir Charles Barkley, for those are the names of The Charitable Gentlemen, stand aghast and dejected, as Kobe Bryant cruelly turns his back upon them and stalks out of his office, the renowned Staples Center.
Now in his gloomy manse, Kobe perches on his Authentic Eames Chair, at rest, but not at ease. He glares out his massive window at the Lights of L.A. County, a mighty pretty sight, Gentle Reader, but one that stirs him not. Smooth Jazz splashes from hidden founts of sound, and the night, Christmas Eve, is fraught not with the promise of snow, but oleander. One might think Kobe's stormy, angry, glare could not be sustained above an hour. One would be wrong.
Upon a sudden stroke of midnight the Smoothness of the Jazz is marred by a horrid clanking, rattling and grating sound, as if the anchor chains of a charred and splintered Man-O-War were dragged across a shattered main deck, one comprised of Salvaged Hand Scraped Oak.
Upon Kobe's face the customary angry glare becomes a famous nose-pinched grimace of infinite distaste. Who dares? The sight of the angelic urban lights is wholly blocked, as if by the appearance of a massive Forum Blue (purple, Dear Reader, purple) tapestry in human form.
Indeed, the prospect beyond the glass is occluded by a very Giant of a Man. Not only are the senses of Sight and Sound assailed, the smell of foot powder rises strong in the air, the scent of oleanders vanquished.
"Yo, Kobes, ‘tis I, The Big Aristotle. Your former partner, and fellow ring bearer."
The face of the goliath Shaquille O'Neal is large as the moon, but casts a dismal light, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. Shaq has a filthy bandage winding ‘round his head, and tied under his chins.
"Faugh! Shaquille O'Neal, you are dead to me! Utterly deceased. Over retired, and fatter than ever, you are, and your Career Totals quite moribund. How come you to my house?
"I've come from Inside Beneath Between Below Beyond The NBA to deliver an Important Message to you, Kobe."
"Why aren't you off ruining ‘The NBA on TNT'?"
"Ah, Mambrah, you surely Shaqt The Fool. It is An Important Message I bear you. Anyhow, you are the world's foremost expert at sabotaging chemistry. I'm an amateur to you." Shaq rumbled.
"You're doing damned well anyhow, I'd say. But, I tell you truly, things fall apart. Entropy claims us all. Only Doing Work brings reward! You never did any damn Work. Bah! Play Your Way into Shape now, Shaq, you resemble a dirigible! You don't Want It Bad Enough. You never did."
"Complaining of my Growing Girth only whets my appetite. I enjoy a humble meal more than you've enjoyed a single thing in your miserable life. Do you have anything to eat here aside from grilled fish and kale chips? Ha! I know you don't."
Shaq laughs his deep phony laugh and merrily swings his titanic chains about, further marring the Hand Scraped Floors, and effortlessly mangling the leather of a Vintage Le Corbusier chair.
"I. Eat. Clean. What of that bandage around your head, dead man? It revolts me."
"Oh, that. It's more disgusting than you imagine. Watch this! Unless you're squeamish."
"I am never squeamish. I make a particular study of being Extra Super Tough." Kobe sneers.
With this the Dreadful Apparition bellows out another fake belly laugh and unwraps the bandage tied ‘neath his chins. His jaw plummets down to rest upon his massive chest, revealing a dark and cavernous portal, fenced by pillars of teeth gleaming whitely as moonlit tombstones.
"grrgle mmmblr old u."
"Arg! That is worse than any injury that has ever befallen me! No man is so Extra Super Tough! Not even myself! Retie it, I demand you retie it at once!"
" ghgr ot yet. Ssssssnack ime!"
With this The Shaq Diesel That Was reaches a bear-like paw into the endless expanse of his purple and yellow silk mu-mu and produces a large spiral-cut boneless honey ham. With a practiced flick he pops the whole thing into his yawning maw. The noises of squelching and crunching override the feeble efforts of Smooth Jazz to set a more salubrious tone. Chunks and hunks of ham, escaping mastication, patter down upon the Hand Scraped Floor in a sugary porcine rain.
"Arrg! So horrible! Stop at once!"
"mmmmmm wwwwa orl sss magic rrrrd"
"Orlando Magic? What? That was before our time. You cannot possibly blame me for that humiliation, sir."
Shaquille grins a stupendous horrid grin, and just as he played basketball, slowly, inexorably, and (mostly) unstoppably, chews ham.
"agic rddddd" he rumbles, between gnashings.
"Aspic? Oarred? Ah, of course, you petty thug. Please stop, Shaq. Have mercy, please. Please."
A massive Shaquillean guffaw sprays piggy particles around Kobe's formerly immaculate Brooding Room, and onto Kobe's pate. Then Shaq swallows down the remaining spiral cut boneless honey ham, and slowly, methodically, reties the dirty, pig-infused bandage, bringing his chins back to their usual level.
"So good. Got to Feed the Big Man! First time you ever said ‘please' to me. Hell just froze over, and I should know." His laugh, and a wave of porky breath, roll out across the battered room, inciting further famous nostril-squeezing from Kobe.
"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to me!" Shaq shouts, and just for Spite (or perhaps, Dear Reader, Sprite) shatters a glass and chrome coffee table with one huge clanking length of chain. He smirks, his narrow-set eyes merrily alight with malice.
"Ho, ho, ho, what?" Kobe sighs.
"That's what Santa says, Kobe, ho, ho, ho. Nothing to do with women. It's Christmas Eve, Mambo."
"It's mam-BA. Mam-BA, a deadly viper, you cretin. The deadliest. And Santa Claus, what humbug! Show me his ringz. He has none, for he is too busy giving valuable property to those who won't Do Work."
"You mean kids, Kobe?"
"Children can Work! The little wretches can be made to Work, and so they should be. Toyz, like Ringz, must be earned Doing Work"
"Whatever, Komamby. I'm ready for another snack. Unless you want to finally hear my Important Message?"
"Say it and depart. You have destroyed my third favorite Brooding Room. I daresay I won't get a single Anfernee from you, given the compromised state of our Courts of Law. I hope you are pleased with yourself, Shaq. Speak!"
"You can't mess with perfection, but you can moisturize it, with Gold Bond!"
"That's the message?"
A look of pained confusion suffuses Shaq's face, a look very familiar to anyone who has suffered through ‘Kazaam!'.
Shaq glowers. "Wait, no. I wish I had a Ghostly Teleprompter." He clears his throat, noisome bandage stretching ominously.
"Kobe Bean Bryant, you, like me, are guilty of utter selfishness and greed, particularly on the court. You, like me, shall bear the chains of your sins, as I do, unless you mend your ways. Your jaw will hinge open, not to receive tasty snacks, but to bear witness to your desire to consume everything in your life to satisfy your endless appetite. You may be a mortal whiner, um, winner, but you will be an eternal loser, lest you change! There. That's it."
Through the delivery Kobe's visages flashes through a variety of signifiers: anger, pride, sneering, more sneering, confusion, disgust, still more sneering.
"Well then, something to ponder, Shaquille."
"You won't have long to ponder, Mamboner, because you're going to get more spectral visitors tonight. Christmas Eve, that is what tonight is named, by way of reminder. It is the night before Christmas, which is, as it turns out, an important Holy Day, and not just an excuse for us to be on Television."
Kobe looks aghast. Literally. "No Christmas Game?"
"No game, Mambooboo. You will receive a visit not just from me, your dear old business partner, now suffering in Permanent Retirement, but from three scary ghosty dudes: The Spirit of Basketball Past, The Spirit of Basketball Present, and The Spirit of Basketball Yet To Come."
"Who are they?"
"You'll know them when you see them, Mambae."
With this the wretched horrible Shaquille O'Neal clanks and shambles his way out of Kobe's Brooding Room Number Three, not neglecting to annihilate various pricy light fixtures and Objects d'Art with a motion similar to blocking a shot, except with massive rusted iron chains.
End of STAVE ONE