Revolution#141, August 24, 2008

Cris and Bob Analyze Kobe

“Bob Costas here, with Cris Collinsworth. And Cris, I want to turn now to one of the most important Olympic events, at least from the Team USA standpoint—and that’s the all-arounds for bootlicking. We’ve had tremendous competition here and I think you can say we’ve had a whole scrapbook full of really inspiring moments. Clearly Bela Karolyi and his wife Marta were very impressive in the early going in the all-important women’s gymnastics.”

“That’s right, Bob—a lot of experts said the Karolyis had piled up so many points that they’d be unbeatable.”

“The sheer sense of injured entitlement, the relentless whining . . . it made you realize why we love the Olympics so much.”

“And don’t forget Bob—it’s easy to whine for one or two days. But it puts a tremendous strain on both the acting ability and the all-important lying skills to go on day after day claiming that the Americans are being cheated, casting aspersions against the other teams and the judge, and getting just the right combination of high outrage and long-suffering shrugs.”

“I mean just the sheer strain on the vocal chords must be pretty incredible.”

“That’s right Bob. And the facial muscles too—don’t forget those facial muscles. Viewers at home may not appreciate the difficulty in doing that kind of sustained whining and keeping a straight face when you’re doing that.”

“Don’t forget though Cris—the Karolyis had a lot of help from our own NBC announcing team.”

“That’s true, Bob, and I’m glad you mentioned it. You know a lot of the critics were saying that the announcers were too over-the-top and that this would hurt the Karolyis in the final judging—that they had too much help.”

“I’ve heard ’em say that.”

“Yes, but you see Bob, they’re forgetting that the Karolyis didn’t come up in the American system and they didn’t have the benefit of the training that our great athletes get from day one. They had to learn all these moves by themselves, and after they were full-grown adults. They didn’t grow up with that sense of spoiled-brat entitlement that is so much a part of what Team USA tries to instill in its athletes and coaches.”

“Not to mention fans. So the Karolyis were way out front on this, really, all of week one. Then something big happened on Friday night. Set the stage for us, okay, Cris.”

“Sure, Bob. Now everyone knows that one of the big story lines at this Olympics from the very beginning has been the ‘Redeem Team.’ On one level, it’s a simple story: would the American basketball team come back from its defeat at the last Olympics and win the gold this time?”

“You got to admit, they looked pretty bad last time.”

“That they did. And there was a lot at stake here—including for the NBA. The NBA needed a performance that would help them both with their white suburban fan base here at home—”

“And a lot of that fan base has been pret-ty alienated these last few years.”

“—but they also needed something that wouldn’t cost them internationally. I mean China is a huge market for the NBA.”

“So you’re saying that with that international dimension they couldn’t do quite the same level of arrogance of the original Dream Team.”

“Exactly. Those moves were not going to work, and might even cost them in the final judging.”

“Wow, talk about a balancing act. That’s quite a challenge.”

“So what were they going to do? That’s what all of us here in the Olympic Village were wondering. Sure, they could win the basketball competition—in fact, they had to—but just winning wasn’t going to be enough this time around.”

“Not to interrupt Cris, but surely you know that there’s a lot more at stake here than just the NBA marketing strategy.”

“Oh certainly. I mean, the basketball players are our marquee athletes right now. Six months from now very few people will remember Nastia Liukin. But these guys are followed by fans the world over, year in and year out. So there’s a big question: are they going to represent for America itself? I mean, let’s face it—America’s in a couple of very brutal and unpopular wars, it’s carrying out torture . . . well, the outrages are endless and people all over the world hate us. And these guys have to be the ambassadors for all that.”

“Don’t forget either the whole memory of Tommie Smith and John Carlos 40 years ago, raising their fists—that puts an extra challenge on the Black athletes of Team USA, and that includes the Redeem Team.”

“Right. There can’t even be a hint of that sort of thing. And here’s where my interview with Kobe on Friday night comes in. You see, Kobe could have just murmured a few words about being proud, he could have said a word about his popularity in China, he could have gushed over Michael Phelps—and some people might have thought that would have been enough.”

“Enough? Please. It wouldn’t have even been mentioned in the same breath as the stunning Karolyi performance.”

“Absolutely, Bob. In fact, that’s the kind of same-old same-old routine that has the judges soured on the American basketballers, and it wouldn’t have medaled at all in this competition.”

“Wouldn’t have come close.”

“That’s so right, Bob. Anyway, Kobe knew that the Karolyis were way out in front and that he had to do a lot. He knew that there would only be one real chance and he couldn’t afford to turn in anything less than a really stellar performance.”

“World-class shit-eating, in other words.”

“Exactly, Bob.”

“I have to say, from the minute that Kobe said that he got choked up when he looked at his Team USA uniform—that he just laid that jersey on his bed and stared at it for a few minutes, overcome with emotion—I could almost hear the points piling up on the judges’ scorecards.”

“That’s right, Bob. And one thing the judges had to be impressed with was the degree of difficulty involved and the way Kobe pulled it off.”

“He didn’t do the histrionics of the Karolyis.”

“No, he went the other way. He decided to go humble and modest—to not only do the shit-eating but to combine that with the very difficult but all-important belly-crawling moves that the judges pay so much attention to.”

“It could’ve cost him if it didn’t come off.”

“Oh, no doubt—it was a high-risk move, and even the slightest stumble would have resulted in very severe deductions. You know, a lot of viewers at home probably don’t appreciate that there’s a thin line in these interviews between coming off humble and just seeming bored and rehearsed.”

“Tell me about it. So talk for a minute about the alley-oop that you fed Kobe at the end. Because I think most people agree that really clinched it.”

“Sure. After Kobe talked about feeling choked up, after he talked about how representing in the Olympics was the highest honor and the most important thing ever in his life—I think he even used the often reliable but nevertheless risky ‘this is what it’s all about’ move—I wanted to see if he could take that to the next level. So I fed him—I said that to a lot of people these days that kind of patriotism isn’t ‘cool.’”

“Sounds like a slam-dunk.”

“Well, don’t forget—slam-dunks can be missed, and when they are, the player looks really bad. And in this competition, even with our modern editing techniques, you have to be able to pull it off.”

To see how he did, let’s go to the videotape.

COLLINSWORTH: Where does the patriotism come from inside of you? Historically, what is it?

BRYANT: Well, you know it’s just our country, we believe [the U.S.A.] is the greatest country in the world. It has given us so many great opportunities, and it’s just a sense of pride that you have; that you say “You know what? Our country is the best.”

COLLINSWORTH: Is that a ‘cool’ thing to say, in this day and age? That you love your country, and that you’re fighting for the red, white and blue? It seems sort of like a day gone by.

BRYANT: No, it’s a cool thing for me to say. I feel great about it, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I mean, this is a tremendous honor.

“I liked the way you used the word ‘cool,’ Cris, and then Kobe used it right back at you.”

“Thanks, Bob. I try to keep up. Anyway, when he put that through the hoop—well, I think that put the whole thing away.”

“You know, I was talking with the experts afterward, and we were thinking you have to go all the way back to George Foreman parading around in Mexico City with that American flag to come up with something on the level of the Bryant interview.”

“I think Bryant goes way beyond that. Nothing against Foreman—remember, the coaching and techniques were much more primitive in those days—but that parade around the boxing ring came off a little robotic and frankly, idiotic.”

“I don’t know, a lot of people liked it.”

“Sure, but Foreman’s move—while it was enough to win the gold in bootlicking back then—took place in a very different environment. To be honest, the bar was lower. Not only that, Foreman’s straight-up ‘tomming’ only got over with a very narrow sector of the Olympic audience. So, not to take anything away from Foreman’s tremendous achievement in ’68, I think we have to say that Bryant has set the new standard in shameless bootlicking.”

“Of course, when they mark it in the stats, you should definitely get an assist.”

“Hey, that’s my job.”

“Thanks, Cris. [turns to audience] We’ll be back in a minute with the next event, the women’s individual competition in ostentatious prayers and uncalled-for nonsensical thanking of God.”

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