The world of sports media can sometimes be a depressing place these days. Sure, on the whole it's good, because there are so many different voices writing (and tweeting and everything else) about so many different things. As consumers, we have an unprecedented number of options and an unprecedented number of talented people producing terrific work.
It just can be tough to sift through all the junk to find that terrific work. Whether it's content farms clogging up Google with their search manipulation, or "media reporters" spending more time picking fights on Twitter and spouting buzzwords than defending the consumer, or 15 GIFs Of Kris Humphries Having Sads OMG, or the popular television program "People Scream At Each Other Because It's Less Work Than Typing," it can be overwhelming at times. The sports media world has evolved in many positive ways, but sometimes it feels like it's cocooning within itself, sports business people attempting to replace editors with traffic analysis. We've been handed this beautiful, infinite communications tool in the Internet, and we're using it to sell used cars.
Which is why what Kobe Bryant did during Game 1 of the Lakers' playoff series against the Spurs was so amazing to witness. Kobe Bryant has been a superstar in the NBA for 17 years and has given thousands of interviews, but we've never got to know him better than we have in the last three-and-a-half months. Because that's when Kobe discovered social media.
Kobe has always patterned his career after Michael Jordan, so we've all always treated him as this sort of sad Jordan-esque hyper-driven, soulless sociopath with no personality outside the selling of sneakers and unhealthy sports beverages … but the last three months have shown us we're wrong. Jordan would have never showed himself the way Kobe shows himself. Whether it was revealing his pedicure technique, joking about heading into surgery and looking like "Mrs. Doubtfire in a jerri curl cap" [sic], admitting to rather profound feelings of self-doubt, or, most famously, pouring his heart out the night after his Achilles injury, Kobe has been open and candid in the way we always dreamed our superstars would be open with us. It has been thrilling to experience.
And nothing was better than Game 1 on Sunday, when Kobe, to much delight, began live-tweeting the Spurs-Lakers game. Kobe can't be with the team because of his injury won't let him travel, so he simply began following along on Twitter from home, like the rest of us.
Of course, it wasn't like the rest of us, because he's Kobe Bryant. Kobe told us what he'd be yelling at Pau Gasol, grew frustrated at the team's defense on Tony Parker, and pushed his team to throw inside to the bigs down low. It was wonderful, giving us a sense of what Kobe is like not only off the floor, but on it. He's a bit of an overcompetitive maniac, but hey, I'm that way when I'm watching my team on Twitter too.
What I would say if I was there right now? "Pau get ur ass on the block and don't move till u get it" #realtalk- Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 21, 2013
Matador Defense on Parker. His penetration is hurting us- Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 21, 2013
It was the platonic ideal of what social media can do. Forget the metrics and the analytics and "content integration" and all the dumb terms people employed in the Web industry use to justify their jobs. This is why it's so great, and what it can be. One of the best basketball players of all time, forced to the sidelines, giving us unprecedented, real-time insight into what's happening on the court, what he's going through, who he is. Forget miking a player for a game: Here was total unfiltered Kobe, providing insight and context and emotion while the game is happening, with no corporate oversight, no muffling clichés, no B.S. Think about what this could open the door for. The consumer and the media and the players, they've all felt like they're inhabiting entirely different universes for years, with players ultimately building walls of protection to keep the riff-raff out. The model has been the Boras Bot, that bland, personality-free, controversy-averse faux-uber-citizen whom we cheer for but know nothing about. Kobe blew up that notion, giving analysis, strong honest analysis, about who he is and what he's going through. When people talk about social media changing the world … this is what they're talking about.
And, of course … we all ruined it. After the game, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke -- renowned for combative moralizing disguised as "hey, I'm just asking the tough questions!" -- asked Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni what he thought of Kobe's tweets. Now, D'Antoni obviously hadn't seen the tweets, what with all the basketball coaching going on, and Plaschke, as he does, turned it into a "Kobe was criticizing your defense during the game," question specifically constructed to elicit an angry response. D'Antoni didn't quite oblige, but he did say that Kobe was just a "fan" now, which brought a response from Kobe and turned this whole thing into the sort of back-and-forth, EMBRACE DEBATE "controversy" that is making everything so stupid. (It's worth noting that in his column about the issue, Plaschke was much more open-minded to Kobe's tweet, but still couldn't resist some concern trolling: "Even though Bryant is obviously tweeting out of his longtime love for the Lakers, can't some of this be interpreted as public first-guessing of his teammates and coaches?" No. Only you are interpreting it that way. Obviously Bill Plaschke is just trying to do his job, but can't some of this be interpreted as a media guy being threatened by open access from players to people other than him and attempting to smack it down?)
And when something becomes that sort of invented "controversy," it morphs from Fascinating Experiment In A New Medium to blinking-red-letters DISTRACTION. And nothing in the sports world is worse than a distraction. Thus, Kobe announced that he would stay off of Twitter during games, depriving us of this fun new way to experience sports -- and to learn about our stars -- simply because we have a sports media that's too threatened and too obsessed with contorting complex issues and breakthrough events into their familiar artificial Good!, No, BAD! talk radio discussions.
Kobe's commentary during games could have been the highlight of this postseason. But we twisted it into the same boring pablum we always do. This is why we can't have nice things.