- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Kobe Bryant has come to be a mindless twit intoxicated by a powerful shot of unchecked power.

There is no grace in this increasingly tortured soul. There is no humility. No modesty. No sense of perspective at all.

This former Grant Hill/Michael Jordan archetype who spoke Italian and smiled with the best has evolved into a self-absorbed hypocrite, aided and abetted by the enabling partnership of Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Bryant has fallen hard the last 18 months, hurtling into the abyss of tawdry headlines that blared the toxic stew of cheap sex, ruined relationships, the permanent exile of Shaquille O’Neal and the Zen master and now this latest fiasco involving Karl Malone and what he did or did not say to the woman wearing the $4million rock.

The gaudy diamond, if you recall, was the payment necessitated by Bryant’s dalliance in Eagle County, Colo., in June 2003. Being unfaithful comes with a price, no doubt. In Bryant’s case, buying your wife’s unwavering support, while dealing with the charge of rape, is an incredibly expensive proposition.

If a diamond is a scorned wife’s best friend, Malone and wife Kaye came to serve as the next best thing, as two jewels old and wise enough to grasp the potency of wealth, celebrity and youth.

Malone, in particular, served as Bryant’s mentor during the uncertain awfulness of last season, as the self-sacrificing deflector before those sifting through the dirt.

It was no easy time for Bryant, despite the urge of the national press to give him the benefit of the doubt. His previously flawless image — clean-cut, well-spoken, friendly in a distant way — masked the mess of a personal life. It included his aloof manner around teammates, a strain in the relationship with his parents and ever-mounting payments to his wife’s parents, who saw not a son-in-law but a financial opportunity.

Love, in the Bryant household, was a many spending thing, brought to a head by this selfish cad predisposed to spread the seed of joy.

He got lucky in one respect. His paramour turned out to be a shaky witness with an active past. Perhaps, too, the motivation of the paramour was the ATM element of Bryant.

In this upside-down subculture, Bryant eventually found himself embroiled in an ugly divorce, as only it could be with his runaway ego. The divorce, as orchestrated by the adulterer, involved the center and coach instead of the wife.

So here we are again, with Bryant looking ever absurd in his highly public spat with Malone.

Bryant must be tone deaf. He must know he is out of strikes with the national press. He must know that he should not be throwing stones from his glass house. If not, his inebriation is terminal, his public rehabilitation hopeless.

He has accused Malone of making a pass at his wife during a game last month, which has resulted in various versions of the event from the respective agents of the players.

What seems clear is Vanessa, the wife, questioned Malone about his cowboy get-up, complete with a hat and boots. To be honest, the question is odd, given the previously close relationship of the two couples.

A cursory check of Malone’s outside interests shows he is a gun-loving, rig-driving outdoorsman who is inclined to have dirt and grease underneath his fingernails. A close friend should know that, rendering the question unnecessary unless it was posed to elicit a flirtatious response.

To hear Malone’s agent tell it, Vanessa said, “Hey, cowboy, what are you hunting?”

To which Malone said: “I’m hunting for little Mexican girls.”

Vanessa, of course, fits that bill.

Now we do not know if locker-room banter has been a dimension of the relationship involving the two couples. Social boundaries become less clear in the locker room, no ifs, ands or Nicollette Sheridan’s backside about it.

You think “Desperate Housewives” of the NBA, manifested in Doug Christie’s wife monitoring her beaten-down husband’s every move.

Or you think of the pioneers of the reality TV genre, the wife-swapping pitchers of the early ‘70s, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich.

Bryant has implied that Malone is a swinger of sorts on the road, just as he told Colorado investigators, true or not, that Shaq is forever buying his way out of his sexual indiscretions.

The latter point was hardly germane to Bryant’s legal issue. Its unintended effect was to reveal the twisted, petty thought process of Bryant. The Malone fallout reveals it yet again.

If anyone could appreciate the fragility of the human condition, it should be Bryant.

Not only that, if Bryant were a man’s man, he would not have solicited the help of the national press to air the dirty laundry. If he and his wife were truly offended by Malone’s actions — for which Malone has apologized, incidentally — Bryant could have kept it between the families and left it at that. He could have shown a modicum of grace and class.

But that is not him, is it? No, he went whining to the press, saying, “Look what Karl has done to my wife’s honor.”

Please. How self-serving. How loaded a contention.

It begs us to forget how Bryant compromised his wife’s honor last year, in big, bold headlines that played out in rich detail on Court TV. Worse, in his national mea culpa on television soon after the news hit the fan, Bryant dragged his wife to the podium, in a stand-by-your-man scene that came across as narcissistic, weak-kneed and just generally pathetic of the starring actor.

Bryant might as well have issued his apology from underneath his wife’s skirt.

He is a weenie, is what he is, all too eager to flaunt the new pecking order of the Lakers.

Of his teammates, Bryant recently said: “They are here giving me 110 percent.”

There you have it: Bryant as star player, coach, general manager and team president all rolled into one.

As a person of many faces, not the least of which is his well-used, two-faced persona, Bryant wants us to believe he is working from Sir Walter Raleigh’s playbook on chivalry, merely coming to the aid of his damsel in distress.

Quick. Find this spoiled ingrate a mud hole on which to throw his cloak and advertise it as a photo opportunity.

From a craven-free precinct of the NBA, courtesy of the Miami Herald, comes the musing of what you imagine is an amused Shaq: “I thought him and Karl were best friends. Karl was always the liaison between me and that guy.”

That guy.

It is best to keep a safe distance from that guy.

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