I know many of you were expecting me to whip up another recap addressing how and why Portland tallied their 10th consecutive loss last night, but I need to pay my humble respects to the fiercest competitor of this sporting generation. In the 4th quarter of L.A.’s victory over Golden State, Kobe Bryant fell to the floor, writhing in pain with an apparent torn Achilles, while driving on Harrison Barnes. I’ve seen him do that move a thousand times before, as have all of us who have spent the past decade and a half cheering or booing his basketball feats, but this time his number was up. Kobe is scheduled for an MRI today to confirm the season ending injury.
And what a season it was. Even using the past tense right there was unsettling. Just two nights ago I spent the evening at my keyboard, bitterly tapping away with regard to his season high 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. Now he can hardly walk. For all the Laker drama, personal injuries, and public criticism, Kobe Bryant has been nothing short of a general. When D’Antoni struggled to fit in, Kobe stood by him. When Pau seemed to drift away, Kobe clutched him more closely. When Dwight behaved like a child, Kobe taught him to be a man. Kobe has always given his heart, soul, and body to this franchise since day one, 17 years ago, and the Lakers are just as much Kobe Bryant as he is a Laker.
Bryant held back tears in his post game interview when asked if this was the biggest disappointment of his incredible career. He responded in earnest:
“Yeah, by far. We work so hard, we put ourselves in a position where we control our own fate, and I certainly have done a lot of work to prepare myself. It’s just… it’s just sh*t luck.”
If the Lakers hold off the Jazz for the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference, they will almost certainly have to proceed without their leader. At 34 years old, Kobe has averaged more than 27 points a game in an effort to keep the slumping Lakers in the race. Actually, no. He did more than that. The Lakers weren’t even on the track when Kobe pulled them out of the mud and grabbed the starter pistol. I remember just a few short months ago hearing Kobe Bryant guarantee that the Lakers would make the playoffs and, If I’m being honest, I took one glance at how far they had to go and thought quite loudly to myself and those around me, “Yeah right.” Yet here we are, and the Lakers are almost there.
I was bred to hate Kobe Bryant. I think often still, my upbringing gets the better of me when I watch him decimate the teams I grew up rooting for. Yet somewhere through the years of marshaled memories I arrived at a point of respect. It was at this point that I was hit with a hard truth; Kobe won’t be around forever. How spoiled are we to have been a part of his legacy? One day I will tell my offspring of the greatest players from my youth and be met with the same stare of oblivious deference that I give my father when told tales of Bill Russell or Pistol Pete. We should cherish the decades of Bryant’s dominion (graciously or otherwise) because not everyone will get to experience his magnitude first hand. How many seasons do we have left?
Four days ago, Kobe stated that he “could play another five years.” Of course, that was probably never in his plans, but the confidence and fortitude was there. Now I’m not so sure. I have no doubt that he will return late next season with more passion than ever, but will his body be the same? This is likely the worst injury Bryant has ever suffered, and at 34 no less. In hindsight, it is easy to look at the past few days and say playing 48 minutes in the 2nd half of a back-to-back against Portland was a mistake, but a few days ago Kobe was superman. I guess I’m just a little shaken because until a few hours ago, I could sweep Kobe’s eventual retirement to the back of my mind and enjoy the idea that the dream may never have to end. Now his human vulnerability is all too real and that scares the part of me that doesn’t want to imagine basketball without Bryant. I need my nemesis.
So here’s to you Kobe, and all that you have done for the Lakers, the fans, and basketball as a whole. I wish you a speedy recovery. May you be able to play as long as you want. Just take it easy on the players I’m actually supposed to like.
a reluctant fan