Friday, May 29, 2015

That Time When Kobe Taught Me to Love Defense

Note: this is from the draft of a post I wrote some years ago in a LA Lakers fan community blog, with some slight edits.

In basketball, the defensive aspect of the game is often overlooked by most audience.  It’s just that offense’s elements – like dunks, alley-oops, fadeaways, 3-point shots, killer crossovers, and no-look passes – can easily incite excitement from its observers.  If defense is ever given any attention, it’s mostly on blocking – an incomplete and, sometimes, misleading indicator of good defense.

I love playing defense; I understand its value.  But during my early years of being basketball fan, I lacked the appreciation for it.  Yeah, I encountered stuff that preached the importance of defense with sayings like “Defense wins championships” and such.  But I never really quite fully grasped the idea.  I was also aware that Kobe was one of the best defenders of the league – being a consistent All-Defensive Team selection through the seasons.  But I was numb to that fact, taking it for granted with the same degree of apathy as knowing the fact that he plays for the Lakers.  My awe for his exciting offensive skill-set probably blinded me of his equally impressive defensive capabilities.

Then it all changed because of one game.  It was way back in March 15 (16 in my timezone), 2004 – a regular season game between the LA Lakers and the Orlando Magic; it was one of my most favorite duels between Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady.

First of all, let me establish how I consider T-Mac the closest thing there is (so far) to a Kobe Bryant-clone, hence, I respect him.  He was, like Kobe, an awesome well-rounded offensive player and also had his legendary clutch moments (e.g. 13 points in the last 35 seconds to steal the win from the Spurs).

In this particular game against the Lakers, during the first half, T-Mac single-handedly torched the Lakers.  In comparison, Kobe was quiet in the offense during the first half.

But in the second half, Kobe went to gunslinger mode and shot the lights out of the Magic.  Above that, Kobe took over the defensive assignment of guarding T-Mac and neutralized him.  And it blew. me. away.  That’s the time when something just clicked inside my head which made the fact of Kobe’s awesomeness as a defender dawn on me and made me fully appreciate and comprehend the awesomeness of defense.

The Lakers won that game, with a large part due to Kobe’s brilliant performance in both offense and defense.  It is also worth nothing that Kobe had a shoulder injury at that time, and isn’t completely at his 100%.  He was just that awesome.

From then on, I would fully enjoy Kobe as a defender almost as much as a scorer, and I get to love the defensive aspect of the game.

I understand why defense is not so popular with people.  It’s hard work.  And basketball is supposed to be play, right?  A tomahawk dunk?  That’s fun.  A buzzer-beating three-pointer?  That’s fun.  A behind-the-back assist? That’s fun.  Shadowing your man all game long?  Not at all.  Moreover, it’s unrewarding, as people will tend to remember that one time your man embarrass you with an ankle-breaker rather than those five other times that you made him miss his shot. 

But to those who learned to embrace defense, they find something romantic and thrilling about this underappreciated and grinding facet of the game – that there’s a special kind of satisfaction and achievement to be derived from it as much as in putting the ball through the hoop.  And thanks to that one Kobe Bryant moment, I get to understand that.

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