I remember when Magic Johnson used to talk about the competition between himself and other NBA superstars in the league. Not merely the in-game competition when they were competing against one another; but just other games around the league as the season goes on. For guys like Magic, it wasn’t an individual ego thing but a motivation to elevate his game to the highest level. When you are already better than 98% of the people you play against on any given night you have to tell yourself things to keep you from being bored. Such was the case with Magic, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, etc.
During a normal game time interview they would never admit it. But get Magic on a couch and he would readily admit that he would search the newspapers every day to see what Larry or Dominique Wilkins did the night before. “I’ll looked at the stats sheet and say, “Oh Larry got 35 last night? That means I’ll have to get 38 or 40.”
Jordan of course was the same way. He would tell himself that the other opponents didn’t respect his game and through that anger will himself to another spectacular performance. I’ll never forget the time the Bulls played a home and home against the then Washington Bullets. The first game in Chicago saw LaBradford Smith a kid who wanted to be Jordan score 35 against his hero. Jordan had a so-so game and afterwards they asked Smith about his performance in “stopping” MJ. Smith no dummy said, (paraphrasing) “Oh no! Nobody stops Michael. I just had a good game. I was fortunate that my shots went in. Michael is Michael. He’s the best.”
Still that didn’t stop Jordan. Just because the question was asked… the next night he torched Smith for 40 something fouling him out the game. He played with an angry scowl the entire game. He knew he was better than Smith so that wasn’t the point. He wanted to make sure everyone else knew it too.
These memories all came to me upon seeing Kobe Bryant put 61 on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden the other night. It was the most points scored by any Knicks opponent in The Garden’s history. The Knicks, blessed or not so blessed with a home schedule that called for the Lakers, the Cavaliers and the Celtics to come visit during the same week had to face the wrath of LeBron James a couple nights later. Of course James down played the situation saying he was not interested in records. I knew he was a damn lie. Every hoops junkie knows.
Magic had newspapers. Today’s generation has SportsCenter and Blackberry’s where their peeps text them with, “Man did you see what Kobe did?”
What does James do last night? He scored 52 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assist… making the first time in over 30 years since a guy had 50 points in a triple double. He scored 20 in the first quarter. Of course he was looking to match Kobe and even surpass his effort earlier in the week. Kobe and LeBron have been friends since James was in high school. They bonded even closer during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Both understand the significance of performing well in the basketball Mecca that is MSG. No doubt James texted Kobe who was busy putting up 36 in a win in Toronto last night something like, “I’ll see your 61 and raise you 52 and a fu*&% triple double beeeeaach! How ya like me now?”
Kobe has enough problems, they have the Celtics tonight in Boston. And speaking of the Celtics… don’t think that Paul Pierce ain’t looking to put up mad numbers on the Knicks on Friday. Of course, he wont’ admit it.