NEW YORK – As Kobe Bryant turned the corner and made a hard move for the rim, he committed those old legs to a most improbable assignment: rising over the rubble of this Los Angeles Lakers season and transcending himself. Whatever else had lapsed in his basketball life – the years, the knees, the busted-up shoulder and failing foot of the Lakers' crumbling 7-footers – Bryant had come to elevate over everything, elevate over everyone on Tuesday night.
These were old times in a different New York basketball address, a christening in the borough of Brooklyn inside the freshest basketball arena in the NBA. Game on the line, the Lakers in a precarious place, and suddenly the congestion and clutter of the season gave way to space, a line to the rim and a chance for Bryant to leap out of a long-ago time and deliver a dunk – a moment – to remember him in the Barclays Center.
"Everybody was really concerned about me passing, so everybody stayed home," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports on his way to the bus. "I just attacked, just went to the rim …"
And then Bryant rolled back his head, flipped over his scarf and laughed. The thought that flashed into his mind on his way to dunking over Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, on his way to flushing on Father Time, washed over him again. "Let me try this thing out," Bryant thought in that instant.
"This just seems to happen every time I come to New York," Bryant told Y! Sports. "I just get frustrated about something, and then all of a sudden, an explosion happens."
From the Knicks and Madison Square Garden, to the Nets and Barclays. All of a sudden, No. 24 happened in a 92-83 victory. Metta World Peace was suspended for unleashing on Detroit's Brandon Knight. Pau Gasol had gone down with what he called a "pop" in the bottom of his foot in the fourth quarter, leaving him on crutches and on tap for an MRI that could reveal a torn plantar fascia. Howard is out with a sore shoulder, borne out of a torn labrum.
So, Bryant beat Wallace on the dribble, beat him into the paint and made his bid in an 80-80 game late in the fourth quarter. Wallace tried to recover, Humphries leaped to meet him at the rim, but Bryant had reached the ball between them and drilled into the basket.
''I think everybody's been drinking the 'Kobe pass' Kool-Aid, so everybody kind of stayed on the perimeter on the shooters and it just parted like the Red Sea," Bryant said. "So I felt a little like Moses.''
Bryant dunked hard, beat Wallace again on a drive for a layup and stole a Nets inbounds pass inside the final minute. The Barclays had been christened like every NBA arena before it. New York, New York. Finally, Bryant had a chance to own this city twice, Madison Square Garden and Barclays.
For all the euphoria over the Lakers' sixth victory in seven games – keeping them within 3½ games of the eighth seed in the Western Conference – the possibility that Gasol could be lost for a significant stretch left a sobering pall over the team. The Lakers desperately need Howard to play with the pain of that shoulder, something Bryant suggested he's never been conditioned to do.
"Listen," Bryant told Y! Sports on his way out of the arena, "we've got so many people down now. And valuable pieces to this team: Dwight, Pau, Jordan Hill. We go from a team that has a lot of size to having a bunch of midgets out there."
The Barclays Center mesmerized Bryant. Late in his career, late in his chances of catching the sixth championship of the superstar born in this borough, Bryant confessed to feeling the "electricity," in the building. He made a fantastic crossover move on Wallace, and could hear the "oohs and aahs," as the ball fell through the basket.
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Nevertheless, they'll remember the dunk in the Barclays. They'll remember that Bryant gave them the full Kobe experience, something out of the No. 8 jersey, out of the grown-out hair, out of a different time. On his walk to the bus, Bryant was asked whether he still wanted to play in the NBA when he couldn't make that explosion anymore, when he could no longer summon a fourth-quarter leap of faith for a victory.
"I can play a different game that challenges me, that I love to play," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. "I can go down to the block and do up-and-unders, drop-steps. I enjoy the footwork aspect of this game. I don't have to just be dunking on somebody."
Nevertheless, it felt like old times for Kobe Bryant. It felt like New York, New York. This Lakers season teeters on the brink. Howard is out, Gasol could be gone longer and this lineup doesn't have staying power as constructed now. For one night anyway, for one breathless moment, Kobe Bean Bryant climbed and climbed into the air, a leap of faith out of old legs and a restless spirit.
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