To Kobe or not to Kobe. That was the question. Whether it was nobler in the mind to vent at your teammates and act surly or to make like Ray Allen, play team ball and end your slump.
While we may never know if President Obama launched F-bombs at BP officials or his staff, just as Kobe Bryant did to the Lakers after their game 5 loss to the Celtics, he certainly replicated Boston's Ray Allen in delivering a smooth performance on Tuesday night before game 6. The president, our shooting guard in chief, who famously hit a three-pointer on the campaign trail, spoke articulately in his first Oval Office speech, just as Allen regained his shooting touch in game 6, hitting his first three pointers after 18 straight misses from that range.
Known for their boyish looks, poise and elegant style, both men were capable of incandescence. Obama's keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention had electrified the crowd and was the equivalent of Allen's remarkable display in game 2 when he set an NBA finals record with eight three-pointers.
But the president, like Allen, had been in a slump. Just as Allen took a hard foul from Lakers thug, Ron Artest, in game 3, the president had been knocked off his game by the reckless actions of BP, which fouled the waters with thousands of barrels of oil a day after cutting corners and failing to take the proper precautions on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Both men appeared to be tentative, wounded and gun-shy. Obama had been criticized by the press, even by liberal pundits like Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews, just as Allen had looked uncomfortable after being muscled around by good-guy L.A. point guard, Derek Fisher.
That did not mean that the president, like Allen, was not working hard or contributing in an unheralded fashion.
Obama, who was overseeing two wars and trying to end an economic recession, had assembled the world's best scientists led by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner, to come up with a solution to the leak. He had visited the Gulf Coast four times and no doubt had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, pained by the loss of 11 lives and the ecological catastrophe before him.
Likewise, Allen had maintained his professionalism despite shooting an anemic 0 for 13 from the field in game 3. Allen, whose superb mechanics as a shooter mirrored the president's superb diction as a speaker, kept playing good defense on Kobe Bryant, contesting nearly every shot taken by the Lakers superstar. Allen also started to hit some two-point shots, notably in the second half of game 4 and in game 5. And he was the one Boston starter involved in several strong runs with the bench in those two games, both Celtic victories. On one play in game 5, he saved a ball from going out of bounds, managing to fling a perfect pass to half court, which led to a basket.
Even if his performance in those games was workmanlike, below his standards, it was clear that Allen was not giving up. But would he regain his long-range touch? Or would he, a month away from his 35th birthday, become a psychic casualty of sorts, like onetime Atlanta Braves closer Mark Wohlers, who never regained his pitching form after yielding that home run to Jim Leyritz of the Yankees in the 1996 World Series? Or Steve Sax, a second baseman with the Dodgers, who became error-prone in throwing to first base?
Similarly, would Barack Obama morph from his roots as a John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt prototype to resembling Jimmy Carter, who could not stop the 1979 oil embargo and Iranian hostage crisis?
On Tuesday night, back in L.A., where he had his record-breaking turn in game 2, Allen showed what he was made of and demonstrated that he still got game with a team-high 19 points. Obama arguably showed he still got game too with his polished speech.
But Allen's effort was in a losing cause, an 89-67 trouncing by the Lakers, just as Obama's Oval Office address, which was criticized for being short on specifics, couldn't stop the despoliation of the marshes and the ecosystem off the coast of Louisiana.
The shooting guard in chief was not getting much love from the country. Just as Allen had the hardest job on the court in guarding the world's most unstoppable basketball foe in Kobe Bryant, the president had to stop an oil geyser more than a mile under water, an unprecedented engineering challenge that seemed to defy every defense thrown at it, every "top kill," "junk shot," boom or berm.
The similarities did not end there as the supporting players on both of their teams were banged up. Just as the Minerals Management Service and Coast Guard were taking shots for their poor oversight of BP and lack of chain of command in cleaning up the Gulf, Rajon Rondo, the Celtics prestidigitator at point guard, was turning over too many balls and even getting elbowed in the face for his efforts, while Kendrick Perkins, Boston's most physical player at center, injured his knee and had to leave game 6 early on.
At the end of the night, neither Ray Allen, who had once played a character named Jesus in Spike Lee's He Got Game, nor President Obama qualified as a messiah. But they both did enough to advance to another game. They would play again with a chance to win.