Kobe Bryant isn't leaving 2005 behind without a bit of controversy. Nor will the Lakers star start the new year on the court.
Bryant was suspended Friday for two games without pay for elbowing Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies in the throat during the Lakers' overtime loss Wednesday. Bryant is scheduled to sit out Sunday's game against Utah at Staples Center and Tuesday's game against the Jazz at Salt Lake City.
Bryant was called for a flagrant foul with 8:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, resulting in the suspension.
"Very surprised. Shocked actually. Very, very surprised," Bryant said of the suspension after Friday's practice. "I've been hit with a couple of flagrant fouls already this year. I've been hit with a clothesline and no suspensions come of that. And I get two games for this?"
Bryant said he never imagined he could get suspended for his move on Miller. Earlier in that game, Miller elbowed Bryant in the head, opening a cut above his left eye that required three stitches.
"When somebody comes down the lane, you've got to hit him," Bryant said Friday. "You can't let them come down the lane and just finger roll and get easy baskets. ... That's just basic NBA basketball."
Coach Phil Jackson said Bryant's postgame comments might have swayed the league office into suspending the star. After the game, Bryant said, in part, "Any player that was going to come down the lane at that point in time, I was going to let him know that he just can't walk through there."
Bryant said he wished he could take back the foul on Miller "knowing what I know now, getting two games for it. But no way in my mind did I think it was going to get a suspension for something like that. No way."
Lamar Odom and Bryant denied reports they had to be separated by security after the Lakers' loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday.
Bryant blamed Odom for supposedly botching a potential tying shot by lining up on the wrong side of the court. The two exchanged words as they walked to the locker room but say they did not nearly come to blows.
"It's crazy, it's crazy man. That's way out in left field," said Bryant, who learned of The New York Post's report on TV on Thursday. He immediately telephoned Odom, whom he calls one of his closest friends on the team.
"You got to talk to the team when plays break down, but nothing close to what (reporter Peter) Vecsey or (TV analyst David) Aldridge said," Bryant said.
Vecsey wrote, "as the pair got closer to the Lakers' dressing room, Kobe became more uncouth and Odom ... answered in kind. That's when Kobe went after Odom. In doing so, he kicked over the lights and a chair holding the TV monitor. Kobe's security force of two quickly intervened and separated the pair."