The top story in the NBA right now, by a wide margin, is the ankle sprain suffered by Kobe Bryant in the final seconds of the Los Angeles Lakers' Wednesday night loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Lakers are holding on to the last playoff spot in the West by a thread, and losing Bryant for a significant amount of time could cost them a postseason berth. On top of that, discussion of the play itself has become very contentious, with Kobe calling the defense of Hawks wing Dahntay Jones "dirty" and Jones firing back that Bryant was the one to initiate contact.
On Thursday afternoon, the NBA chimed in with its own opinion of the play. According to an official statement from the league, Bryant should have earned two free throws:
With 4.9 seconds remaining in the Atlanta Hawks' 96-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant attempted a jump shot over the Hawks' Dahntay Jones. After review at the league office, video replay confirmed that referees missed a foul call on Jones as he challenged Bryant's shot and did not give him the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor. Bryant should have been granted two free throws.
It's important to note that this statement doesn't deem the play "dirty" — it just says that it violated the rules and should have been whistled for a foul. It's a judgment based on the law, not morals, and that means it won't really solve the broader questions of whether or not Jones crossed an ethical line and put Bryant in danger substantially different from that which all NBA players contend with every time they step on the court.
Of course, it is a big deal that Bryant (or his replacement) should have gone to the line, because every win matters for a team only a half-game ahead of the Jazz for the eighth spot in the West. The Lakers were down only two points at the time of the shot, and it stands to reason that they could have pushed the game to overtime with a good free throw shooter (either Bryant or Jodie Meeks) at the stripe. The non-call takes on added significance with Kobe hobbled, because the Lakers figure to have a tougher time winning games if the centerpiece of their offense can't play.
Bryant remains out indefinitely, so it's unclear just how long he'll be out, if at all. On Thursday, Kobe sent out several tweets regarding his treatment, including this photo of his swollen ankle:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 14, 2013
I'm no doctor, but that doesn't look like the ankle of someone who should be playing high-impact professional basketball. On the other hand, Kobe has proven remarkably adept at playing through pain throughout his career, regularly putting up impressive scoring nights through seemingly serious injuries.
It's very possible that this injury will prove impossible to ignore, and that Bryant will have to sit out some key games for the Lakers. If that's the case, then something tells me the NBA's statement won't suffice as an apology to the Lakers and their fans.