Kobe vs. Ron-Ron Not The Story

Kobe Bryant - Ron ArtestSurrounded predominantly by local TV cameras after L.A.’s Friday afternoon shootaround in Houston, Kobe Bryant was asked so many questions about his interaction with Ron Artest that he finally had to give his opinion:

“Do I look like I care?” (WATCH HERE)

Realistically, how much can be made of an elbow to the chest that followed Artest’s shoving of Bryant underneath the hoop in an rebounding tussle? How many ways can the “Do you expect anything extra from Ron Artest” question be worded*? How many columns can we get out of it? After L.A.’s Game 2 win, from which Artest was ejected in the fourth quarter, some pundits condemned Bryant for the action in over-the-top fashion, while others condemned the league for assessing a flagrant 1 foul for what they saw as relatively harmless position battling.
*I counted nine.

Here’s the point: Who cares?

“What Kobe did happens every single game, maybe 20 times in a game,” said Phil Jackson, when peppered with the same questions asked to Bryant. “Big guys try to shove a small guy* underneath the basket, they’re going to have to fight for their life under there … It just got a focus because of what happened, but those things happen all the time in our game. This is not a game for boys, it’s a game for men.”
*Bryant may be heavier than his listed 205 pounds, but regardless, he gives up considerable weight to the 260-pound Artest.

The physical interaction between Bryant and Artest will not only be limited by officials, but also because the two will probably not even guard each other until the fourth quarter. Indeed, Houston needs to throw a different, more physical look at Bryant than Shane Battier at times, and the Lakers don’t want Artest to back Trevor Ariza into the paint. But whether or not two guys that never back down get into some physical contact isn’t going to decide the game.

More likely, it’ll be how aggressive Pau Gasol is with Yao Ming; how effective Kobe’s jumper is with Battier chasing him around; how Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown fill Derek Fisher’s shoes; if L.A. can knock down the open threes it gets when Houston doubles Bryant and Gasol; if L.A. can keep Aaron Brooks out of the paint; if Artest continues to drain out-of-character jumpers; or if Houston can find a way to score enough points. And so on.

Perhaps that’s why Kobe’s “Do I look like I care” really said a lot … He and the Lakers have plenty of other things to worry about in Game 3.