I suspect Kobe Bryant isn't super thrilled that All-Star Weekend is happening in Los Angeles this season. Sure, he loves to perform in the spotlight, but only when it shines down on a basketball court. Most of what takes place at All-Star Weekend occurs in hallways, hotel lobbies and conference rooms, amid a snarling media swarm. There's endless small talk and gladhanding. Even a relatively anonymous player like Landry Fields struggles to get from one place to another without being hassled for a sound bite. For a guy who guards his privacy as closely as Kobe does, and whose public comments are so few and carefully chosen, this isn't an ideal scene.
What's worse is that the Lakers have entered the All-Star break at the low point of their season. A three-game losing streak, including a loss to the wretched Cavaliers, means that whenever Kobe speaks to the press, he's assured of getting asked, "What's wrong with the Lakers?" in different and increasingly annoying ways. Sure enough, Kobe has maintained a low profile so far. While Pau Gasol has been all over the place -at the Jerry West statue ceremony, at the negotiating session with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement, and sometimes just wandering the halls - Kobe has popped his head up only at his mandated photo and media sessions. On Saturday night, he's hosting a party at Boulevard 3 in Hollywood, but that'll be as locked down as you might imagine. TMZ reports that anyone wanting a table near Kobe will be subject to a "vigorous screening process." Anyone who passes muster will have to shell out a mere five grand.
When he spoke briefly with the media on Friday, Kobe projected a taciturn confidence. He insists that the Lakers' problems are fixable, and of course, what else would be say? At the same time, he acknowledges that nothing about the Lakers' three-peat campaign is certain.
That's the challenge of playing the game.... That's what brings the excitement, not knowing. Even when you're rolling and playing extremely well, there's still the unknown of saying, "Well, this could slip from us at any given moment at any game in the series."
Whatever's going on inside the Lakers' locker room, they're showing admirable discipline in keeping it in-house. Pau and Kobe have both stated that the Lakers, as a team, have discussed what might be amiss, but neither has gone into any substantive detail. Although their play on the court has slipped at various points this season, they earn high marks for staying on-message.
Still, you can't help but sense the shadow that's fallen over Kobe and the Lakers. They should be at the center of this weekend's celebrations. As two-time defending champs and hosts of the NBA's biggest party, they should be overseeing the festivities from on high, like Steve Rubell at Studio 54. Instead, Derek Fisher is in negotiations over a possible NBA lockout and Kobe's having to fight through some grumpiness to play the gracious host.
Fortunately, there's been plenty of other things for people here to buzz over. Blake Griffin is enjoying the NBA's equivalent of a debutante ball. Justin Bieber is proving uncomfortably likeable. And of course, the Carmelo Anthony trade talk is ever present. All sorts of storylines are elbowing the Lakers off the front page, and for the time being at least, that's probably just fine with the Lakers themselves.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.