Poster boy for the end of an era. Laughingstock among so many of his peers. Target for Laker greats who were disgraced by the imagery he left behind.
It took a few days, but the Lakers' center finally realized the scope of what he had done. His fourth-quarter elbow into the rib cage of Dallas' J.J. Barea in the already-embarrassing Game 4 finale on Sunday sparked a relentless backlash among the sort of voices professional athletes can't ignore as easily as those in the media: the ones who came before.
Magic Johnson, Jerry West and even James Worthy chimed in through various outlets about the way Phil Jackson's last game went down, deeming the 23-year-old gutless and classless and wondering why he made an already-painful ending so much worse. The cheap shot was one thing, but it had hardly ended there. There was the defiant removal of the shirt as he left the American Airlines Center floor, and the unapologetic postgame interview that Worthy said "made me cringe."
Yet, by the time Bynum was forced to come to terms with his actions on Tuesday, he pulled off the kind of turnaround that his team couldn't manage to during the Mavericks' sweep in the Western Conference semifinals.
"I want to apologize for my actions at the start of the fourth quarter of Game 4 against Dallas," he began. "They don't represent me, my upbringing, this franchise or any of the Lakers' fans out there that want to watch us and want us to succeed. More importantly, I want to apologize to J.J. Barea for doing that. I'm just glad that he wasn't seriously injured in the event. All I can say, now that I have looked at it, and it was terrible, is it definitely won't be happening again."
Bynum, who said he reached out to Barea but had been unable to contact him, didn't realize the magnitude of his low-rent move until seeing it for himself.
"I went and watched it, and it was terrible," said Bynum. "The whole sequence, coming off with the shirt and everything -- sometimes you just have to man up and own it. That's what it happened. It's that simple."
The league suspended Bynum for the first five games of next season on Tuesday, plus fined him $25,000 for "removing his jersey and the manner in which he left the court."
Apologizing was the right move, of course, the easiest and only way to get past the shameful subplot and back to the real story of his place with the Lakers going forward. He is the pawn that must be handled perfectly, the rarest of assets that will be so pivotal in the Lakers' return to the top whether he is here or not.
The Dwight Howard play is an obvious and seemingly possible one, but only if the Orlando big man sends word to the Magic that he won't be back and team officials decide that Bynum is the right kind of big man for their future. Worthy intimated in his interview with ESPN Radio's Mason & Ireland in Los Angeles that the incident could bring the trade talk that has been so prominent among the fans and media to a new level internally.
"If the Lakers were thinking about toying with the possibility of some kind of trade ... then I think after that performance [in Game 4] that they can enhance the possibilities," he said.
Bynum is owed $14.9 million next season and the Lakers hold a team option worth $16.1 million for 2012-13. But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told SI.com on Sunday night that there will be no knee-jerk reactions to the way in which the season ended, and the conversation on Tuesday focused on life with Bynum remaining with the organization. Of that, Bynum made one thing clear: He wants a bigger role.
While Pau Gasol was struggling so mightily and admitting once again that he needed to be more assertive, Bynum's aggression levels -- independent of his incident -- were on the rise. His postseason scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage were all significantly higher than his regular-season production, with the contrast certainly giving Lakers officials evidence to ponder in the coming months.
"My role on the team, on this team, was obviously to be a defensive force and get as many rebounds as I can," he said. "Offensively for me, this series and throughout the playoffs I was just being more aggressive, just give us a solid option. I did a decent job at that, had a decent playoffs this year, but it wasn't enough. I just [want to] come back expecting that next year I'll be a bigger part of the team and I'll work to be a bigger part of the team."
With the once-unstoppable Gasol looking so feeble in his finish, it certainly sounded like a request for the torch to be passed. Bynum said he has no doubts that he can become a more prominent scorer with Gasol at his side, but he couldn't have been clearer about his expectations.
"In order for this team, if it was to be the same, [playing a greater offensive role] would have to be the case," he reiterated.
Apology and all, Bynum remained comfortable with his outspoken ways. He pointed to the team's practice habits as a major reason for the Lakers' demise, saying there was a greater need for all involved to take part to maintain the kind of cohesion that was missing. Jackson routinely allowed his veterans to not practice, most notably Kobe Bryant as he dealt with myriad injuries or simply opted to rest after logging so many miles.
"We have to practice," Bynum said. "I can't address anyone's health, certainly, and no one can address mine. I haven't been the most healthy person, but I do know that in order to win we need to practice and we need to be out there going through things together, everybody. That's just the way that is. That's the main thing that I see that was different from the last two years, that we won, was our practice just wasn't the same."
In what was the first of two days worth of exit interviews, Ron Artest took a far different tone in regards to Barea. His clothesline of Barea in Game 2 led to his Game 3 suspension, but Artest clearly did not agree with the league's decision.
"What are you going to do?" he said of the play. "You've got a guy who's 5-2, [actually listed at 5-foot-10] and I extend [his arm] as much as I could extend, and he's straight up -- like a broom stick -- straight up, and his face was in my palm. And when it happened, I'm like, 'Oh, boy, are you all right, young fella?' And I got ejected.
"It was an unfortunate ejection and suspension. It wasn't right. It wasn't right. It shouldn't have happened."
Which was the case with Bynum, too. But the apology will go a long ways toward rectifying his reputation, no matter where he plays next season.
"I'm not concerned about my personal reputation," Bynum said. "I'm just going to get better in the offseason, come back with a new mindset attacking next season."