- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Uh-oh. Kobe Bryant might have found a loophole in this whole "teammate" thing.
The Black Mamba showed it off Tuesday night versus the Houston Rockets. Driving the lane but stuck with no room to shoot, he tossed the ball off the bottom of the backboard, caught it and laid it in.
Who says Kobe doesn't pass the ball?
"I should get an assist for that," Bryant said Wednesday from his car. "It's an intentional pass to oneself, so it's an assist. That way people can't say all I do is shoot."
It's true, people do say Kobe Bryant shoots too much, but this is only because he shoots too much. Kobe Bryant shoots more than lingerie photographers.
He's always been an unrepentant gunner, but he's practically melting the barrel this season. He's taken 71 more shots than his next shootingest teammate, Pau Gasol. He's averaging almost 30 shots a game this month. Bryant believes in shot selection. He selects them all.
Unfortunately, he's making fewer of them. He went 6-for-28 the other night. For the season, he's hit only 41.7 percent. Entering Thursday, that tied him for 214th in the league.
And he doesn't care.
"Look, I've played 15 years. I've won world championships. I've done all these things. And people still want to talk about this stupid-a** [stuff]? I'm a scorer first ... I'll try to make the good play, the good pass, kick it out when my teammates are open, but I'm a scorer first. I may shoot 27 times. I may shoot 20 times. Nobody complains when I shoot 10 times. You don't hear ME complaining when I shoot 10 times. It just depends on the game, you know?"
Yes, but Kobe, with your right wrist swollen like a miniature Macy's float, wouldn't this be a good time to pass on a few--
--"I've shortened up my follow-through," he says.
Yes, but Kobe, according to ESPN research, you have the highest "usage rate" -- that's the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes -- in the NBA. In fact, your usage rate (38.9) would be the highest in the 3-point era of NBA--
--"Yeah," he says. "And I also have five rings."
Yes, but Kobe, stats show that the Lakers are 29-4 when rising star center Andrew Bynum scores 20 points. Shouldn't it be a high priority for you to--
--"That's great. How many of those shots come from me kicking it to him for good looks when I'm being doubled?"
He's right, of course. He usually is. Bryant is one of the greatest offensive machines basketball has ever seen. Bynum's glory nights often come because defenses send three men to cover basketball's Jesus and leave his apostles uncovered.
"Would I be all right with a guy taking 29 shots a game?" echoes Blake Griffin of the Lakers' Staplesmates, the Clippers. "I think I'd have to be. I mean, what are you going to say? It's Kobe."
Exactly. Ain't nobody gonna say nothin', as we say in penitentiary movies.
Besides his coming divorce, which he doesn't talk about, nothing is going to change Kobe Bryant. Whether Phil Jackson is his coach or new Lakers coach Mike Brown. ("Right now, Kobe Bryant allows me to coach him," Brown said the other day, and not kiddingly.) Whether Chris Paul is his teammate or Paul is playing across the hall for the Clipp--
--"Not true," Kobe says. "Chris would've created shots for me. I wouldn't be shooting 29 times a game. I'd be shooting 40. Man, what would people be saying THEN?"
We'll never know. Paul was Kobe's teammate for only half an hour or so in December. Then NBA commissioner David Stern killed the very deal he helped engineer.
And Bryant doesn't care.
"I was working out [in Irvine]," Bryant recalls. "I saw it on the TV. 'Chris Paul to the Lakers.' And I thought, 'Cool.' But I didn't really get to think about it because my workout wasn't done. And it all changed before I finished."
No, Bryant remains an irresistible force of nature, like an avalanche or Justin Bieber. He is 33, and only his conscience can stop him. Luckily for Kobephiles, he doesn't have one. He'll play 66 games in 123 days this season, and even that won't persuade him to stop flying into the lane and adding to his contusion collection. How's he going to make it, though?
One solution he's working on is finding somebody to come to L.A. and give him the same Orthokine therapy on his wrist that worked so well on his knee this offseason in Germany.
"I'm looking into that right now," he says.
But wouldn't you have to miss games for the ther--
--"Nope. Not necessarily. Don't need to miss a game to do it. We'll see."
Having just had similar blood-spinning therapy myself last month, I'd say he's either insane or has the pain threshold of lug nuts.
But this is a man who has missed zero games in three of the past four seasons, and you get the feeling it would take 12 Clydesdales to keep him off the court in this, his 16th season.
"I shouldn't have a problem. I'll be fine. That day will come, though. The key is not to let [expletives] like you see it when it gets here. I'm just gonna get out before you even notice a thing."
The Lakers without Kobe Bryant? Oh, we'll notice.
What will we do with the basketball?
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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.
Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."
Skeptical of the number of shots Kobe Bryant throws up? Fine. But as he explains to Rick Reilly, it doesn't bother him one bit.