A Fallen Soldier

by Jeffrey Perez

After calmly sinking two free throws, he limped to the locker room with a look of displeasure on his face. After carrying the Lakers on his 6’6 205 pound frame all season, the Black Mamba finally collapsed.
With 3:08 to go and the Lakers down by 2, Kobe Bryant completed a routine move when he suddenly felt a pop. “I made a move that I made 100 times and it just popped,” said Bryant. A pop that was faint enough that only Kobe could hear, but colossal enough to devastate the city of Los Angeles. He laid on the hardwood floor holding his foot in pain, asking Golden State rookie Harrison Barnes repeatedly if he had kicked him.
After earlier falling to the floor twice, there was a sense that Kobe was just not right. Even with his immortal ability to heal or play through injuries, Kobe was in the 12th round of a heavyweight fight and his Achilles heel prevailed.
After early assumptions of the injury being a torn Achilles, Kobe himself confirmed the season or perhaps career ending injury during the post game interview, as he held back tears of disappointment and sorrow. “You work so hard it’s just bullshit,” said a solemn Bryant afterward. “I can’t walk. I tried to put pressure on my heel. There’s just nothing there.”
The frustrating element to this injury is that it probably wasn’t the move itself that caused the it. After logging in perfect minute games the previous 2 contests, and playing heavy minutes throughout this disastrous season, the 34 year old veteran looked physically and mentally exhausted.
Many say it was Coach D’Antoni whom is responsible for this unfortunate incident , but after guaranteeing his team would make the playoffs Kobe Bryant vowed to do whatever it took to get in. To him, that meant playing almost every minute of every game after manufacturing his grand promise. “It was all necessary,” said Bryant of his playing time. “It was just a freak situation.”
Could coach D’Antoni have limited Kobe’s minutes? perhaps. Could he have put his foot down when Bryant refused to give himself a much needed break? sure, that is his job as a coach. But one thing is for sure, after witnessing Mike Brown’s dismissal (A coach who sat Bryant when necessary), D’Antoni wasn’t about to follow his lead. He might not own a piece of the Lakers franchise, but no one underestimates Kobe’s ability to manipulate and influence the organizations decisions.
So with a game left in the season with the Lakers controlling their own playoff destiny, it’s up to the remaining players to pick up the pieces and execute Bryant’s promise. And after complaining all season about touches, Lakers big man, Dwight Howard, should finally assert himself as the number 1 option. If there is a silver lining to this injury, it’s the fact that Dwight Howard might be more inclined to resign with the Lakers during this offseason, since he will now be the team leader.
The team should respond well without him in the short term, given that they can finally use their advantage in size. The ball movement will be fluid, but come playoff time, where individual playmaking is crucial, The Lakers will suffer tremendously. And with the playoffs looming, the Lakers won’t have enough fire power to compete with their inevitable opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There is no denying Kobe Bryant’s unparalleled work ethic, as his resume is a testament to his dedication to the game. But with a time frame of 9-12 months of recovery ahead of him, one has to wonder if Kobe Bryant will come back for his 18th season as the Black Mamba or the Garden Snake. There is no doubt that Kobe Bryant will sport a Lakers uniform again, the question is will we see the guy who averages 27 points per game or a shell of himself? If Bryant concludes that he can’t return at the same level, he might be all the more convinced that retirement is the best option. If Kobe has shown us anything throughout his career is that he might not always win, but he damn sure won’t go without a fight.