A Good Day to Die Hard
This is the time of year when I seem to take a step back from my usual fanaticism over the NBA and relax up until the chaotic, drama-filled adventure that is the NBA Playoffs comes around. But something propelled me to watch the Lakers-Warriors game on Friday night. I can’t tell you what it was. Divine intervention? If anybody asked, my response would have been a logical, “the Lakers are fighting for a Playoffs spot and the Warriors are fun to watch.”
What I saw, was something that won’t be lost in the endless sea of memories and moments in my head as time moves on. Because, on this Friday night, I may have witnessed the last time Kobe Bryant will play professional basketball as, well, Kobe Bryant.
A tear in an achilles tendon is a devastating injury, that all but ends many athlete’s professional careers. Now I’m no doctor, and I am not saying that Kobe Bryant will never play basketball again, but facts are facts. Nearly zero NBA players in recent or distant memory came back from this type of injury better, or even at the level they went out with it. And in Kobe’s case – at the age of 34 in the sixteenth year of his NBA career – the best case scenario realistically is Bryant coming back and being an All-Star player.
This outcome would be heart-warming and ridiculously impressive, but it’s a stretch. If Bryant plays NBA ball once more but falls short of this, which is a much more reasonable expectation, it likely won’t last long. Kobe has made it absolutely clear he has no intention of being in this league if he’s not dominating it. His mind can always change, but whether he follows suit with his proclamation or not, chances are we won’t see the Kobe Bryant that we know ever again.
The Kobe Bryant that’s a first option. The Kobe Bryant that is his team. The Kobe Bryant that will take the most pivotal of shots. The Kobe Bryant that won a championship with a broken finger on his shooting hand. The Kobe Bryant that at moments this year shattered everything we knew about how age effects a human body and did things we’ve all dreamed of doing at one point or another. We may not even see the Kobe Bryant wearing his patented purple-and-gold Lakers jersey, with rumors of Los Angeles using the amnesty clause on Bryant swirling around.
I don’t blame anybody for the injury that cost us one of the greatest players in the history of our beloved game. (In anger and sadness, I initially did blame head coach Mike D’Antoni via my Twitter for not forcing Bryant to sit out a few minutes, but I’ve calmed since Friday night.) I’m saddened and hurt, mainly because even in the best of circumstances, I can’t see any form of the Bryant we once knew coming back like he always has.
I may be wrong, again I’m no doctor. But opposite to my life philosophy, today I will expect the worst and bleakest of news and expect to never see the Kobe Bryant some loved, many hated, again.
And this is tough to digest, because in the midst of a game against the Warriors when he’s going on stretches where it seems like Klay Thompson is actually bothering him and others when his shots seem absurd yet they all fall, you don’t take the time to appreciate what you’re watching. You never think in the middle of an NBA game, “this guy’s career can end with one misstep.” And yet, it may have happened.
But what made this night so special to me, what made whatever force out there unclear to us mere mortals make me watch that game despite my eyelids feeling like bags of bricks and my fatigue cementing me into a laying-down position, was that Kobe Bryant went down the way Kobe Bryant would go down. Fighting.
Kobe Bryant has been known for so many things in his NBA career. His fadeaway jumper which resonates images of the great Michael Jordan, his afro which signified his younger and more exuberant days in which he dunked on seven-footers nightly and his delightfully egotistic mindset to name a few. One of the most popular is his will to win. An overused cliche in the eyes of many, a facet of his being that makes him unique to every other basketball player to ever pick up a ball in the eyes of mine. Although I’ve never been one to use this aspect of his game (it’s more of an aspect of himself, not just his basketball really) as an argumentative point in regards to his basketball skill, I do believe it’s a quality of his that you can’t find anywhere else.
And his performance in front of his home Staples Center crowd against Golden State was a symbol of the determination that courses through Kobe’s veins like blood. After a play where he took a mid-air collision with two Warriors players in which he seems to have banged knees with one of them, Kobe played on. After falling backwards on a jumper in the paint, Kobe seemed to tweak his right knee or ankle, yet played on to score 12 points and make 2 crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Bryant began a drive that ended in a slip and collapse late in that same fourth quarter, seemingly massaging his left ankle (where his Achilles tendon tear is residing). He still attempted to continue on before finally, he was pulled out of the contest because of his visible inability to move about the court. He limped off to a roar from the Staples crowd, going out in a way that only Kobe Bryant can – fighting.
And so, if this marks the end of Kobe Bryant’s resounding and honor-filled NBA career, literally or figuratively, it does his career justice. Sure he didn’t go out a champion, but he went out fighting enemies the human body cannot possibly overcome – itself. Something only Kobe Bryant would risk his career to do, just to win a game that would bring them a step closer to making the NBA Playoffs. With that, maybe it was a good day for Bryant to go out.
“One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day. “If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear.” I’ve always loved that quote. Thats “mamba mentality” we don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.”
This is a portion of what Bryant later posted on his Facebook page.
So maybe this wasn’t the day I anticipated. Maybe Bryant’s fire will continue to burn on, leaving opponents in ash as the hoop is set ablaze. It’s only right that Bryant overcomes this, like all the obstacles before him, to continue playing NBA basketball. Because that’s what Kobe Bryant does, because that’s who Kobe Bryant is.