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Monday, March 4, 2002
Reggie's remarks create mystery over Kobe

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Friday's Reggie Miller-Kobe Bryant fight was good enough, as far as these things go. A few blows were actually thrown, and a lot of players joined into a delightful scrum in the first row.

On the NHL scale, call it a six.

But that isn't the fun part, not by a long shot. What made this a perfectly ugly moment, the kind that keeps us paying attention for the next game the two men play, was this segment of Miller's statement of explanation two days later:

Kobe Bryant
Friday night's fight left Kobe Bryant with a cut on his face.

"Kobe has other issues he has to deal with. This had nothing to do with me or the basketball game played on Friday evening."

Now THERE'S a brainful.

Keep in mind first that this appeared not as an impromptu remark delivered by a cranked-off combatant. After a fight, anyone can say anything and get a pass, based on the legal principle of excited-utterance-by-man-with-bruised-knuckles. Miller actually had someone in the Indiana Pacers' media relations department type it up.

In other words, he thought about that sentence awhile.

But it's not the motion, but the meat. Miller has used the vaguest form of scattershot innuendo to suggest that Bryant is somehow haunted by some undetermined life detail that explains his behavior.

Makes you wonder what that could be. Unrequited love? Extremely requited love? Cannibalism? Stalkers? Persistent dreams of Joey Crawford in a gingham dress? Telemarketers?

The mind boggles, because the mind can't help but boggle when presented this kind of temptation. In other words, the suspicious mind abhors a vacuum, and tends to fill in the blanks in lurid ways.

Miller, who has never been accused of being a fool, just rolled a grenade under Bryant's chair, and not inadvertently, either.

It's called trying to get inside someone's head, but since the likelihood of the two players meeting each other before this coming Christmas is extremely poor, it has the added benefit of unleavened malice.

At least it smells that way, and since athletics is not a world in which the spoken word is held in much regard, the unspoken word takes on greater significance.

This is not to say that Miller has some sort of goods on Bryant. One, we don't know to what Miller is referring, and two, we don't know that whatever it is Miller is referring to is actually true.

Miller, who has never been accused of being a fool, just rolled a grenade under Bryant's chair, and not inadvertently, either.

We just know that it is cryptic enough to cause mischief, which we suspect was probably the whole idea to begin with.

Of course, it might not be what we suspect either, but that too is part of its inherent beauty. We can sit here and scratch our heads about whatever is going on in Bryant's head, or we can scratch our heads about whatever is going on in Miller's head. We can also scratch our heads about whatever is going on in our heads.

If it was any more Zen, we'd be sitting cross-legged in a barbecue pit full of lit coals, snorting incense.

Fact is, we are fascinated by what Kobe Bryant thinks, and Bryant has learned at a fairly early age how not to tell us. He is a successfully cryptic athlete, well-schooled in an art learned by precious few -- the art of not being understood.

So when Reggie Miller drops a weird little tidbit like this, whatever it is, many of us find ourselves wondering about facts, motives and opportunities -- about them both. We fill in blanks, sort of, based on preconceptions of people we don't know, and wait for the other shoe to drop, whatever size it might be.

What this says about us, well, one shudders to think, particularly if it's actually nothing at all. We don't suspect that it is nothing at all, but we ought to hold out the possibility.

What this says about Miller is more delicious, because those two sentences show a remarkable understanding of human nature, a gift for pressing buttons that send others into Pavlovian spasms while putting a rival back on his heels.

And what it says about Bryant is ... unclear, actually. Although we hit our knees right now, praying with a breathtaking fervor to our own personal deities that it has nothing to do with Joey Crawford in a gingham dress.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.