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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Is The NBA Protecting Kobe Bryant?

Patrick Crawley |
August 10, 2010 | 5:22 p.m. PDT

Sports Editor

The NBA released its 2010-11 schedule Tuesday, and, to no one's surprise, the Lakers have one of the easiest schedules in the league.

Unlike last season, the Lakers are blessed in terms of home-road balance--December and February are somewhat tough months but other than that it's a relative cake walk--but the real kicker is the number of back-to-back games they'll play: 15, a league low.

For comparison sake, 16 teams have 20 or more back-to-backs scheduled, with the Bulls and Bucks leading the way with 23, and only four teams have fewer than 18: Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Phoenix and, of course, the Lakers.

This, to me, raises questions of foul play.

Is the league scheduling fewer back-to-backs for the Lakers to protect Kobe Bryant?

Call me a conspiracty theorist all you want, but I think it's a reasonable assumption.

After all, it's not as though the Lakers are coming off a demanding season of back-to-backs--they had 20 last season, putting them right at the league average. And the distribution of back-to-backs is hardly equal across the league--more teams get screwed with high totals of back-to-backs than blessed with low totals (as you can see here).

Add to that the fact that Kobe has played nearly as many NBA minutes, 45,177 including playoffs, as Michael Jordan did at the end of his career, 48,484, and I feel there's reason to be suspicious.

Few in the NBA push themselves as hard or play through as many injuries as Kobe. He's one of the league's iron men, a player willing to battle through pain at all costs, sometimes at his own detriment--as we saw in January and February as he played with a broken finger to less than spectacular results.

If Kobe won't protect himself, it seems the league is willing to do it for him.

Now that LeBron James is considered a kingly fool, Kobe is being held up once again as the NBA's undisputed best. More than that, he's the guy chasing Jordan and a second three-peat. In other words, he's an important marketing tool for the league. Having him suffer a serious injury would be catastrophic for David Stern and Co., not to mention the city of Los Angeles, one of the league's biggest and most lucrative markets.

Which leads us to where we are now: 15 back-to-backs and a relatively tame road schedule that includes just two away trips of five games or more. You can't spell E-A-S-Y much easier than that. Especially not if you're the Bulls or the Bobcats, both of whom have had consecutive seasons with 22 back-to-backs or more on their schedule.

Phil Jackson's health was probably a consideration as well when it came to making the schedule--an early retirement for P-Jax also does the league considerable damage--but Kobe is the NBA's re-born golden boy. I can't shake the feeling that they're protecting him with this move.

What do you think?

To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.


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Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2010 11:02 AM

Really is the person who wrote this article a "NBA Conspiracy Theorist" who's a fan of a small market team that has been close to but has never won a NBA championship. The writer of this article sounds like he believes anything that comes out of Tim Donaghy's mouth.

GarbageJournalism (not verified) on August 19, 2010 9:46 AM

Ridiculous premise.

Funny how authors like this are no where to be found during the last several seasons when the Lakeshow had some brutal schedules. They finally catch a break one season and low and behold, here come the haters to opportunistically spout their crap.

Nice try.

Daily Links 8/18 « Acrylic Sports (not verified) on August 18, 2010 8:44 AM

[...] Update    Celtics Notebook: Harangody in, Wallace outNeon Tommy    Is The NBA Protecting Kobe Bryant?Denver Post    Kiszla: Nuggets don’t want to get LeBron’d by Carmelo [...]

Taivo (not verified) on August 16, 2010 5:04 PM

Completely agree. The league's always done its best to keep its cash cows (Kobe, MJ) in the spotlight. Can you say "push-off" on MJ?

Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2010 6:24 AM

I don't think so man.

gonzo (not verified) on August 13, 2010 12:47 AM

haters gonna hate

Anonymous (not verified) on August 12, 2010 11:27 AM

no doubt. Stern loves his stars, loves kobe, and loves the money that the lakers can generate for the league. Part of it is for health reasons, partially for TV purposes, but mainly b/c stern is corrupt

pecrawley on August 11, 2010 12:42 PM

I disagree that the league had the same reason to protect Kobe last season. Last season LeBron was still The Man so to speak. Now that LeBron has severely smudged his image, Kobe is the guy the NBA looks to to carry the league's image. Add to that the possibility of a three-peat and he's the most marketable player in the league. On top of that he has never looked more vulnerable than he did last season, when the finger injury hampered his shooting. The NBA has more reason to protect him this season than they did last season.

Anonymous (not verified) on August 11, 2010 11:35 AM

have you considered the issue of a shared arena and the built-in conflicts?

Anonymous (not verified) on August 11, 2010 10:20 AM

I think you're stretching it a little bit. The league had the same reason "to protect" Kobe last season, yet the back-to-backs were average. Injuries can happen anywhere, not just on back-to-backs.
As for the home-road balance, you end up with 41-41, that's the way it is. Last year the Lakers had a bad finish to the season, but they also had a brilliant start due to the favarable schedule. This year, the same kind of favarable start to the season is gone.