It looked like a rough week for Kobe Bryant, who has watched Chris Paul go from being on his way to the Lakers to heading across the hall to the Clippers, Lamar Odom get shipped out of town, and then wondered aloud if there was any sort of plan by the Lakers to win another championship.
As it turns out, it was even worse off the court for Bryant, whose wife Vanessa filed for divorce Friday, citing irreconcilable differences.
In a statement released by a representative of the couple, the Bryants “ask that in the interest of our young children and in light of the upcoming holiday season, the public respect our privacy during a difficult time.”
Good luck with that happening.
Athletes get married and divorced frequently enough, some messier and some more prurient than others. But given Bryant’s well-publicized history – he acknowledged prior infidelity when he was fighting sexual-assault charges eight years ago – and his standing as an NBA cornerstone, Bryant now is ensured of being the NBA’s defining narrative this season.
LeBron James wearing the black hat?
The Clippers turning L.A. into Lob City?
Whether the Lakers are able to shrug off the disappointments of losing Odom and losing out on Paul, and still win another title, now will be viewed through the prism of Bryant’s personal life.
Bryant is the NBA’s most popular player, no matter the metric: merchandise sales or fans in opposing arenas often chanting M-V-P when he steps to the free-throw line.
If fans might have been charmed by the site of Bryant walking out of Staples Center with his wife and young daughters in tow, they also know better than to interpret it as a sign of a happy family.
Now, as people may read the more salacious details as they come out – TMZ reported that Vanessa believed Kobe was unfaithful – their view of Bryant as a man may change.
But at its core, this divorce really isn’t any different than a more celebrated – and surely more costly and contentious – case in Los Angeles, the McCourts.
All fans really care about is whether it affects the team.
If the McCourt case prevented the Dodgers payroll from rising, fans were just as irate as they will be if Bryant starts clanking 3-pointers.
Pau Gasol acknowledged his poor playoff performance might have been due in part to gossip reports – which he said were untrue – that his girlfriend had broken up with him.
Not that this endeared him to fans when the Lakers struggled to beat New Orleans and were swept by Dallas.
A much younger Bryant went through much more severe circumstances in 2003-04, when he shuttled back and forth to Eagle, Colo. His ability to compartmentalize then – when he would routinely fly in from a court hearing that day and drop a spectacular performance that night – was captivating, if exhausting.
So, if there is little doubt that Bryant can handle any turmoil away from the court, what about others?
Phil Jackson isn’t around to gauge the team’s pulse and provide a measure of reassurance. And it’s doubtful that Mike Brown, the new coach, went through anything like this in Cleveland. Also gone is assistant coach Brian Shaw, as close as there was to a confidant for Bryant.
This already was going to be an interesting season for Bryant. At 33, he has largely tamed his reckless impulses – at least on the court. The rest his knees received in the lengthy offseason, and the stewing over last season’s early exit, were supposed to be all the invigoration Bryant would need.
Now, there is a new variable in the equation, one that will provide another subtext, and ensure that the Lakers are theater worth watching.