Kobe Bryant's toughness is not and never really has been in question. The Los Angeles Lakers icon has played injured on many occasions, often appearing to sacrifice his long-term health for a better chance at regular-season wins. If there were any remaining questions about his tolerance for pain, Kobe answered them in April 2013 after he shot two free throws a few seconds after snapping his Achilles' tendon against the Golden State Warriors. Normal players would not even contemplate continuing, even in a dead-ball situation.
That well-established reputation both does and doesn't explain Kobe's decision to play hurt during Wednesday night's Lakers game at New Orleans. With a few minutes left in the third quarter, Kobe went up for a dunk and finished. On his way up the court, though, he grabbed his right shoulder and left the game soon after.
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Most athletes would have stayed on the bench in such a situation, particularly with the Lakers not putting up much of a challenge to the Pelicans midway through the fourth quarter. However, with five minutes left and the Lakers down 88-75, Bryant re-entered the game. It was also apparent that he could only play with his left hand. Here's the video:
His presence didn't make much of an impact — the Pelicans won 96-80 behind a dominant 27-12 fourth quarter. Kobe finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field, but his most notable minutes came when he could only use his left hand.
It's a little difficult to understand Kobe's rationale behind playing despite lacking full range of motion in his dominant arm. While it is understandable that he would think he could help the team, especially given the team's performance after he left the game in the previous quarter, few players, no matter their rank on a list of all-time greats, could make much of a difference playing with only their off-hand. It's remarkable that Kobe was able to make any shots — let alone a wrong-handed turnaround jumper — but it was also telling that he only took two, both within the first minute of his return to the game. He was not able to do everything necessary to aid the Lakers' comeback.
Yes, Kobe did prove his commitment to staying on the court, but he established that trait long ago. The overwhelming impression of his decision to keep playing is something close to stubbornness or selfishness — only a player with an inflated sense of his own value would think his one-armed presence essential to victory. As if to prove the point, Kobe's post-game comments involved comparisons to past success while playing through injury:
Kobe: “I’ve played with a torn labrum, so I’m not too concerned.“ Says it’s too early to get worried about this being a long term injury.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 22, 2015
Who else but Kobe would return to a game with a double-digit deficit late just to play with one arm? No one since Michael Jordan has such a fervent belief in his own will to win. Unfortunately, in this case, Kobe looked more like the Black Knight, a man convinced of his own capacity for victory even when all evidence suggested he had no chance.
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