Chuck Klosterman on Kobe and Shaq

We think Klosterman’s piece on the Kobe-Shaq feud is one of the most delightful works of sports journalism in recent memory.

Sports hatred is situational and generally metaphorical. Play-by-play announcers remind us that the Raiders hate the Broncos and the Sox hate the Yankees, but those alleged on-field enemies share the same agents and eat in the same restaurants and tip the same exotic dancers. If sports hatred feels real to the hater, it’s a self-styled fiction: hatred for the purpose of play. About 99% of the time, it’s a totally constructed emotion.

But that final 1% is all I need.

Every sports fan with a laptop and no life has heard O’Neal’s freestyle rap about Kobe’s inability to win a title on his own, punctuated by Shaq’s relentless (and arguably valid) question, “Kobe, how my ass taste?” And everyone has found this material hilarious. The semi-extemporaneous lyrics also accuse Bryant of destroying Shaq’s marriage (by reportedly telling Colorado police after his arrest for sexual assault that the Big Aristotle paid women for their silence after the ends of affairs), which is slightly less funny (although probably more valid). Now, Shaq is a funny guy and a charming fellow and—most important, at least from a PR perspective—a hyper-jolly goofball who likes to give toys to sick orphans. So as a culture, we tend to take his side.

But his rap was still pretty weird. Go back and watch it again. Its only goal was to humiliate and emasculate Bryant, and it was conducted in a context that left Bryant no recourse. O’Neal knew Kobe couldn’t respond, which is why he seemed to enjoy the performance so much. If Kobe took the situation seriously and called a press conference, he would seem weak and humorless. If he tried to respond with a rap of his own, it would be an inorganic disaster: Kobe would probably try dressing like the 1981 version of Reggie Theus, hire the Neptunes and come across like a chick from Northern State (the Brooklyn hip-hop group, not the D2 Wolves from Aberdeen, S.D.).

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