Thinking About Kobe Bryant…

Darius Soriano —  April 13, 2013

It’s been about 12 hours since word hit that Kobe Bryant suffered what looks to be a torn achilles tendon. And, to be completely honest, I’m still struggling to form fully developed thoughts on the idea of him suffering this type of injury.

I’ve seen Kobe hurt before. The list of injuries he’s suffered and played through is endless — a torn labrum, severely sprained ankles, mangled fingers, a torn ligament in his wrist, a fractured nose, and on and on it goes. He’s been something different than human in his ability to battle and fight through. It’s part of what’s made him Kobe; one of the reasons that he has universal respect even from those who openly root against him.

This is different, though. Seeing him clutching at his lower leg, that look on his face — not of determination to battle through, but of knowing something was really wrong — was something unseen to my eyes before. He’s really hurt this time and the impact it will have on what’s left of his career is unknown. Will he play again? If so, when? How well? Have we seen the last of the Kobe Bryant we know?

Where he goes from here remains to be seen. On his Facebook page he spoke openly about the doubts he has about coming back strong and the fire that burns to do just that. Kobe, more than any other athlete of our time is complicated that way. He’s been the ultimate yin and yang player. He’s the guy with the genius level basketball IQ who sometimes makes the plays that make you scratch your head. He’s the ultimate solo artist who will throttle an opponent with fantastic team play. He’s the guy who offers the most biting critique only to later put his arm around a teammate and offer sage words of wisdom. It seems the players he is most frustrated with are the ones he respects the most; the ones who physically challenge him are the ones he wants by his side in the trenches.

In the past few months Kobe has talked about the mental drain of continuing to compete at the level he has been while wondering if he could continue to do it. The next day he’d remark how he could play for 5 more years if he wanted. This injury will challenge him in new ways and only he will be able to know how much he has left to give to try and get back to the court.

What this means for the Lakers is clear. They’ll still function as a team because they still have several very good players. Losing Kobe hurts in many tangible (and intangible) ways, but they can and will adjust. They’re professionals, after all. But Kobe was their best wing player and, for pretty much this entire season, their best player overall.

He carried their offense in a variety of ways and replacing his production will be nearly impossible. Replacing it from the wing, will be impossible. The Lakers simply don’t have the players to do so. Whether they make the playoffs or not — and I bet that they do — they’re worse off and whatever hope they had of challenging a top seed is now nearly gone. I expect they’ll compete hard and still challenge, but you don’t lose your 5-star general and become a better army. The team will close ranks and try their best and that will lead to some wins but it won’t be the same. It just won’t be.

I think Dwight Howard will try to fill the void of production, that Pau Gasol will take up the mantle of leadership, that Steve Nash will return and play his brains out (that guys is competitive too, you know). I think that team will still be entertaining and fun and a lot of things that we’ve wanted them to be all season. But they’ll be it without Kobe and that, for me at least, will be hard. And strange.

The quest for blame is on and I understand the sentiment. When things go wrong we want to know why. We ask and answer the question ourselves and then react accordingly.

Mike D’Antoni’s name will ring out as the culprit here and while I can relate to throwing blame in his direction, I don’t do so myself. Yes, one of his chief jobs is to manage a player’s minutes and to protect them from themselves. This is especially true of the super-competitive players who, if left to their own decision making, will play through whatever their bodies will tolerate. Kobe’s body can tolerate more than others and I do believe that D’Antoni could have been better at managing the situation to try and keep Kobe from playing to the level of fatigue he reached this year.

But Kobe wanted to play and the Lakers needed him to play. That much is not arguable. There wasn’t the luxury of rest when every game mattered so much. Do you rest Kobe now when there’s no guarantee the rest will even be applicable towards your ultimate goal? If the Lakers don’t the games they do with Kobe in the game for so many minutes, they don’t qualify to play the games where that rest matters. What then?

This is why the situation was lose-lose. The hole was too deep and the team had to fight too hard just to get in a position to qualify for the chance to reach their goals. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but it was. Fault for that lies with everyone. With the players for playing poorly enough to lose all those games. With the front office for building a roster so dependent on a select few, aged players. With the injury bug who feasted on the Lakers all season. And, yes, with the coach who was too stubborn and sacrificed long term thinking for the types of short term returns that were needed to try and, ironically enough, get back to where the long term view could be taken.

It’s been a sick season that way and there is no remedy for it. So blame who you want, just know that whoever you blame isn’t alone, as there’s plenty to go around.

After all these words, I still don’t really know what to think about it all. Kobe and I are close in age. In a way, I’ve always related to him simply because we come from the same time and have been influenced by the same things when it comes to the game we both love. He’s one of the best to ever play the game and I’m just a guy observing it all from a distance, but that distance between us has been closed through my television, the internet, and a press pass or two.

His career likely isn’t over, but it feels like an era is. The era where I could depend on seeing number 24 (and before it number 8) take the floor under every conceivable circumstance certainly is. For that I’m incredibly sad, but also tremendously appreciative. I got the chance to see one of the very best ever do what he does best. I also saw him go down swinging, competing his hardest, performing at the some of the highest highs he ever has.

And in a way it’s fitting. Cruel and undeserved, but fitting nonetheless.

Darius Soriano

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24 responses to Thinking About Kobe Bryant…

  1. Thanks for putting it into words so eloquently.

  2. $12 million coach. $30 million blunder.

  3. The fault is nobody’s but Kobe’s. He wanted to play, and people who don’t listen to Kobe tend to get fired.

    Regardless, he’s one of the greatest playoff scorers ever, (4th place in net points), and should try and comeback, if he wants to get that number one spot. If interested, check out hoopdon.weebly.com, where I measured out efficiency and volume, and Kobe ranked 4th in total net points.

  4. Moved over from the previous thread….

    All these years we have been eager to put narrative after narrative in front of this man. Some narratives he chose not to follow. They were too pat, too typical, to easy. In other words, not Kobe. Some he has followed and his approval of these paths are marked with the skins he has shed on them.

    I do not know what form we will see him in next. Skin shed in favor of player-coach for the rest of this season? Blue sheet and face mask, ready for anesthesia? Nike workout-gear glistening in sweat. A millionaire’s suit on a sideline watching a team fight without him? This is not the last shedding. There is still a trail for Kobe to struggle and crawls though and to leave yet more discarded skin. We can’t pretend to know what the shape of this skin will take. We can only really marval at the forms already discarded. Skinny-punk skin. Arrogant-8 skin. Champion’s skin. 81-point game skin. Skin with a new 24 on it’s back. Beat the Celtics skin. Then this most glorious skin. We just witnessed one of the great seasons of NBA basketball from one of the greatest players to sweat on an NBA hardwood. I shed tears last night. The beauty of his game, the power of his will, the terms in which he plays, the greatness of his skill, the inspiration he generates for his fellow warriors… There is such a lot of Kobe that finds parallels in Mighty Achilles. I hate how obvious this narrative is. It’s too perfect. There is no Kobe but Kobe. Whatever Kobe returns to the floor, I will marval at the heroic return from Hades. Kobe does not look back.

    The Lakers beat a very good playoff team last night. They did it as a team. They did it with a level of intensity that I hope will be duplicated, again and again, until the whole team is either a champion or on its shield. This is a good time for the team to take on the identity of their leader. I don’t see how the perimeter defense does not suffer from this loss but maybe Nash returns and the offense runs in a manner that fits the talents of this team. We will see,

    Gasol was Gasol last night. Okay, it was against David Lee but even he doesn’t give up a triple double every night.

    Personally, I think it borders on stupid to blame MDA and Jimmy for what happened to Kobe. We talk, again and again, about Kobe’s stubborn will and then think anyone could keep him out of the game if he thought they needed him? I remember complaints about PJ’s rotation as regards Kobe’s minutes. Like Achilles, you love Kobe or you hate him, but you can’t control him. The man put his word on the Lakers making the playoffs. He was not about to let Jodie “Patroclus” Meeks decide the good of his word. If you think it’s MDA’s fault, you haven’t paid attention to Kobe’s career. There is nobody to blame here. Kobe went down the same way he comes up, as a warrior, leaving everything there on the floor. His sweat and his skin are his footprints.

  5. The thing about Kobe this season is that he HAD to be the backbone, or I really believe they would have collapsed.

    In that light, his season has been epic because he had to maintain both the posture and the play until:

    A) Pau got healthy and his head on straight.

    Howard got healthy and his head on straight.

    C) D’Antoni learned how to coach a bit, adjusted his style and found his rotation around that.

    There’s a poetry to Kobe’s season that I truly believe will stand the test of time, seeing him physically broken hitting those last two free throws before limping off the court.

    Then, braving the press, and pouring his heart out online. This season has been about loving Kobe’s humanity, and even a dose of humility.

    It’s something unique to a player of his stature, but in step with the times we live in (24-7 media, connectivity).

    The Legend only grows after last night.

  6. I can’t talk about Kobe just yet… It’s too soon for me. So lets discuss the inhury. To pretend over working a 34 year old Kobe at the end of the season didn’t have almost everything to do with this injury is ignorance or denial. Earlier in the same game he went down twice with different fitigue injuries. He looked like a fighter barley holding on. Just two days ago I was listening to Bill Simmons discussing MDA ruining the end of Kobe Bryant’s career with all these minutes as he discussed his propensity to run players into the ground. Yes Kobe wanted to play every minute… But a coaches job like a parents is to say no.

    As many know I don’t call for coaches jobs in the NBA. Coaches are not every important unless you’re talking about a Phil Jackson. The NBA is about talent. I didn’t think Mike Brown should lose his job because I didn’t think another coach would make a difference. The players make the difference. But today I think MDA should be fired for gross negligence. He basically ended the career of one of the top three basketball players to ever play. We can be politically correct all we want and pretend working a old player into the ground doesn’t increase the likelihood of stress injuries like this one… But I’m not one for denial.

  7. I don’t think most Lakers fans know exactly what to say or how to feel today, but your words hit home with me. Because I don’t know where else to vent…

    I’m a lifelong Lakers fan. I’m also an Eastern time zone resident, and so I happened to fall asleep around the time last night’s game was tipping off. I woke up around 4:30 a.m. for no apparent reason, checked my phone, and was thrilled to see the final score by favoring the Lakers. When I tapped the game recap link, I couldn’t believe my barely awake eyes.

    Seeing a photo of Kobe Bryant was no surprise, but between the grimace on his face and the grabbing of his foot, I did not even need to read the understated headline above it: “Lakers edge Warriors after injured Kobe Bryant exits game.” My eyes dared to read on: “Bryant’s Achilles tendon apparently is torn. His season likely is over.” Putting the phone down, I rolled over in bed and closed my eyes, hoping that I was only dreaming.

    Several hours later I awoke again, halfway remembering “LAKERS WON! Wait, what about Kobe?!” I carefully scrolled through my Twitter feed, starting around the second half of last night’s game. Then the tweets took a decidedly one-topic turn, and it wasn’t good. I read them all. I watched the YouTube clip of Kobe’s post-game interview. Reality was sinking in. I made a pathetic Sadder-day pun to my wife. I was at a total loss for what to do.

    It doesn’t make sense. There’s this man (Kobe), who plays a game for a living (basketball) for a team all the way across the country (the Lakers), and he got hurt. Yet it feels like I lost a family member. I realize the absurdity and hyperbole of that sentence. But it does feel that way.

    Kobe’s post-injury Facebook post was one of the most interesting athlete social media moments I can recall because I think the duality of his message mirrored the mindset I share (and I imagine other fans do as well). Athletes his age with his mileage don’t recover quickly–if at all–to return to form from injuries like this. However, Kobe is as tough as they come and will surely be motivated to try and not go out like this. That he managed to articulate that and cared enough to share it with the world is a tribute to his self-awareness and competitive drive.

    Were the Lakers likely to make a run at a title this year? No. But with Kobe, no one would ever say it was a definitive no. The team may still very well make the playoffs. Maybe they could even steal a game or two from OKC or San Antonio if they play excellent. In reality, though, the team was struggling to qualify for the postseason with their best player. Postseason success is not in the cards for 2013. The question is, will Kobe be a part of a contending Lakers team ever again?

    Truthfully, no one knows how this plays out long term. Heck, I don’t know how to end this comment. All I know is that since I was only 7 years old when Magic held his retirement press conference, this is the saddest day for me as a Lakers fan. The reality Kobe-less 2013 NBA playoffs is disappointing. The prospect of a Kobe-less NBA going forward is devastating. Here’s to hoping that Kobe has one final chapter left in him. Best wishes on the surgery and recovery.

  8. darius: end of an era, you’re exactly right. what the future holds for these current lakers cannot be written by the best of writers, the most imaginative people and yet the script or this year’s lakers is unfolding before our eyes. there is no scapegoat, this is life.

    twenty years from now, we will look back on this time and will know one thing: we had the greatest 2 guard in the history of the nba. by then all the talking knuckleheads and kobe haters; and you know who you are will be dead or will be hating on someone else because that’s who you are for the reasons you have. that’s my vent, can’t help but feel that way, at least for today and everytime i see a situation in a game where i’ll be telling myself, boy, i wish kobe had that ball in his hands…..

    Get well Kobe and come back stronger than ever.

    Go Lakers

  9. Darius

    Epic post and one I will print and save. Should be put into syndication for anyone who ever watched the man play. While my feeling are strong about MD’s overuse and how it may have led to the injury, it is for the FO to sort out. The potential lose of revenue from missed playoffs and missed Kobe will be felt. Not sure where the future lies but I have to think many or most will blame this coach and the Buss
    family will have to weigh that next season.

    Thanks for your thoughts and thanks to Kobe giving even more then
    he had to give. Can’t help and wonder if a strong coach (Or the trainer request) pulling him for a rest after the first or second injury last
    night might have erased all of this. Even Matt Barnes tweeted the coach played him into the ground. Mike D’s legacy?

  10. It can’t end like this for Kobe Bryant. This just can’t be that the last image of him as a basketball player is him massaging his ankle, hitting 2 FTs (his last points?) and then hobbling off the court. Will this be the end of the “Kobe Alert”?

    Kobe has suffered the same injury that ended the careers of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Injuries happen and Mike D’Antoni nor is it Kobe’s fault because of all the minutes he has played. Kobe’s long-time trainer Tim Grover stated “This is not Kobe’s fault, because he pushed himself. This is not the coaches’ fault. An Achilles just happens”. After hearing Kobe’s comments I think the he will return and go out on his terms and not by an injury. But this season still has two games left and I think that the Lakers will rally together to secure Kobe’s guarantee that the Lakers make the playoffs.

    Gary Vitti on Kobe’s MRI: “There are no good Achilles tendon ruptures. Third-degree rupture. It’s gone. It has to be sewn back together.” Kobe will have a 6-9 month recovery time and the plan is to have him ready for next season. I think that Kobe will be back sometime next season, possibly for the opener, he still has something left to give the basketball world.

    Wishing Kobe a successful surgery and a speedy recovery.

    Darius, thanks for another well written post.

  11. If the “I want Phil” chants were not enough, D’Antoni’s decision to play Kobe after hyperextending his knee should be the seal in the coffin. I am heartbroken and angry. Everyone I was watching the game with was shouting at the TV to take Kobe out of the game. It was common sense, but you can’t expect common sense from a desperate coach who only sees 5 feet ahead with his coaching career on the line. DAntoni will go down in Laker infamy.

  12. The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body. It is essential in the mechanism of the leg as it attaches most muscles in the lower half of the leg to the foot. You probably know it’s named after the Greek mythological hero Achilles, who had been bathed in the magic river Styx by his mother and gained invulnerability. When she bathed him she held him by the heel, which was the only part of his body not to touch the water, becoming his weak spot. Many years later, after a life full of heroic feats, a poisoned arrow to the heel killed Achilles. And it is disturbingly fateful that the very same tendon has brought down today the biggest hero in the NBA, Kobe Bryant. At age 34 he was fighting again for his sixth NBA ring. He had been playing almost 100% of minutes in the last five games in order to get his team into the playoffs. He has to get surgery and walk through rehabilitation hell for a whole year. And we can all bet he will go through it. He’s the greatest fighter in professional basketball and one of the most driven athletes in history. Let his determination be a motivation to all of us…

  13. Flaccido Domingo April 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    If anyone’s to blame here it’s Vitti, who’s done a piss poor job of keeping the Lakers healthy, going all the way back to the Shaq days.

    If we’d had a crew as good as the Phoenix medical team… well this injury just wouldn’t have happened on their watch and all our other players would have recovered far more quickly.

  14. Darius,

    I know you are not into coach bashing, but MDA is fully responsible for Kobe’s injury. I know there are plenty of people rather take the easy route in pointing the blame on Kobe. After all, Kobe is a grown adult and the truest professional in every sense. However, I blame MDA for him being a coward of a coach, and his manipulative way of using Kobe’s competive nature.

    MDA is taking advantage of this situation by playing Kobe 45+ mins almost every game. If Kobe wins it for him, he gets to keep his job. If lakers lose, he knows Kobe has to take majority of the blame. The media will be quick to cast blame on Kobe shoots low %, usage too high, or not passing enough…… MDA gets to dodge the media blame by saying he put his best players on the floor. Kobe is then on a lose-lose situation while MDA puts himself on a safe spot.

    What makes MDA even more of a coward is by saying Kobe said he is ok to play. Kobe wanted to keep playing because he wants to win. If Meeks wants to go 48 mins, would he say ok? MDA is the coach and is responsible not to run his players to the ground. The fact that MDA is a long time acquantence to Kobe makes MDA even more evil to abuse Kobe’s competitive nature.

    MDA is a coward, and should not coach another game for what he has done to Kobe. It’s more than misuse of personnel. It is a calculated and manuplative act.

  15. Aaron, well said.

    Flaccido, blaming Gary Vitti is perhaps the lamest thing I’ve seen on this blog. Epic fail.

  16. Albert,
    It’s not that I’m not into bashing the coach, it’s that I’m not into hurling insults at someone who, as I mentioned, deserves some blame but not all of it. Your post is over the top, man.

  17. Whats so frustrating for me is that kobe bryant gave everything just so the Lakers can make it to the playoffs and get swept in the first round. At least thats what I think and probably most fans think. Was it really worth it?

  18. excellent post Darius

  19. Flaccido Domingo April 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Funky,

    fail, really??

    No lamer to blame the guy whose *primary job* is to keep the team healthy (and who, btw, has access to more and better resources than anyone outside of NYC and Boston) than it is to blame the coach (a man whose only real crime is to not be Phil Jackson and who would have been crucified if we didn’t make the playoffs because he rested Kobe).

    Over the last 10 years, LA has lost an average of 75 games/year due to injury (which is slightly worse than the league average, btw) vs 50 for Phoenix and 48 for Detroit. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

  20. I don’t want to comment on whether MDA is a coward or evil or whatever…but just sticking to the basketball side of things, MDA has a very inefficient way of developing his rotation and it has now bit us hard where it hurts the most. It’s well known from his past coaching gigs that MDA prefers playing a very short rotation, like even 7 players at times…that’s a little nuts given the grind of playing just one NBA game, let alone the majority of the season. He’s done the same thing with the Suns and the Knicks. What’s the point then of having 12 guys in the active roster? But most importantly, it’s just not an efficient way of building a team.

    There are some coaches who figure out the best way to use the majority of the players already present in their roster. Guys like Greg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle and of course Phil Jackson.

    And chances are, any one of these coaches mentioned above would have made WAY better use/develop guys like Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, Earl Clark (first half of the season), Chris Duhon or even Pau Gasol.

    MDA has a lot of limitations as an NBA head coach. I don’t know how long he’s gonna stick around here (I hope not too long) but I seriously doubt if he’ll get another NBA head coaching job anytime soon.

    It just sucks that the rest of the NBA is learning this lesson at the expense of the Lakers.

    My prayers go out for the Mamba.

  21. I echo the sentiments of everyone here. Great post, Darius.

    I’m also with Aaron. Right now, I can’t even put into words how I feel about Kobe, his injury, or his legacy. The thought of possibly never getting to see my favorite player of all time ever play again, and not go out on his own terms is unfathomable right now. Knowing Kobe, he won’t go out like this, but if he comes back a shell of his former self, that would be just as heartbreaking.

    So for now, I just want to wish Kobe a speedy recovery. Whatever he decides to do, I’ll know that as a lifelong Lakers fan, I’ve been blessed for the past 17 years to watch this warrior, this machine, this athlete with an unimaginable drive and will to be the best and to be a champion, compete at the highest level. And for that, I will always be grateful.

  22. @ P. Ami
    Kobe is Ulysses (Odysseus) to Jordan’s Achilles

  23. Flaccido, are you taking into consideration the age of the players on the teams you are comparing? The Lakers have been surrounding Kobe with old guys for nearly two decades. Did the Clippers team doctor suddenly get bad, or did Donald Sterling sign old guys like Billups and Grant Hill?

    It just seems ridiculous to me that you are using an injury to Kobe as an excuse to criticize the team doctor who, if a doctor has as much influence as you claim, has allowed Kobe to overcome a myriad of injuries in this and virtually every prior season–and who just saw MWP come back off knee surgery in 12 days (something I think Vitti played no role in, but you must if you think doctors hold more sway than coaches when it comes to preventing or overcoming injuries).

    I see no comparison at all between the culpability of a team doctor who treats players after the fact and a head coach who ran his star player into the ground, and I think you’ll find very few people who share your view that it is Vitti, not D’Antoni, who deserves criticism.

  24. You are right on when you divert blame from D’Antoni; if YOU were the brand new coach, would YOU tell the 17-year veteran/superstar/basketballGOD Kobe that he couldn’t play? Good luck with that. I got off late from work at DISH to catch the last part of this game, and having had the same type of injury, I cringed right along with him. If anyone can come back from this, it’s Kobe, but that all remains to be seen. I caught the game on my iPad riding the bus home, as my DISH Anywhere app lets me take all my TV/DVR with me. It’s cool being able to take my TV with me wherever I go, but we were all really bummed out as we watched on the bus. Best of luck Kobe!