SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Kobe Bryant threw the ball to Los Angeles Lakers teammate Devin Ebanks on the fast break, and Bryant knew what was coming next. Instead of tossing a soft bounce pass to Bryant for an easy lay-in, Ebanks lobbed the ball for an alley-oop. Bryant elevated and stubbornly dunked the ball with his right hand, instantly receiving a jolt of pain to his battered wrist.
Bryant winced as he ran down the floor early in the third quarter of a 100-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. How Bryant manages the pain in the wrist of his shooting hand could be a season-long challenge for the Lakers. He tore a ligament in the wrist during the first preseason game and has vowed to keep playing in a grueling shortened season that has the Lakers playing games the first three nights – the first two of which they have already lost.
“It hurts more when I fall on it with the impact below the wrist," he said. "When I fall and hit the ground, that’s when I feel it the most.”
Bryant wore a right elbow pad and sleeve on his right arm and sported sleeves on both knees against the Kings. During the offseason, he underwent an innovative procedure on an arthritic joint in his right knee in Germany – and, according to the Los Angeles Times, later returned to have the same procedure done on his left ankle. In an effort to recover faster, he and his teammates visited a nearby cryotherapy clinic Monday and spent three minutes in a room chilled to 200 degrees below zero.
Bryant's major concern is his right wrist, which was injured during a hard fall against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 19. The Lakers' director of physical therapy massaged Bryant's wrist as Bryant sat on the bench during the Kings game. Bryant also wore a protective splint on the wrist after the game. He had eight turnovers in the Lakers' opening loss to the Chicago Bulls, but totaled 57 points in the two games.
"It swells daily, it’s painful daily," he said. "I try to stay on top of it as much as I can."
New Lakers coach Mike Brown quickly learned about Bryant’s threshold for pain when Bryant sprained an ankle during training camp.
[ Video: Three already stand out as NBA MVP favorites ]
“He’s on the ground, he stands up and kind of hobbles to the side,” Brown said. “I can tell he is gritting his teeth as he is walking to the side. I said, ‘Kobe, are you OK?’ He didn’t say much and he probably mumbled something. The trainer goes and gets him, and I figured he would go back and ice because we were almost done from ending scrimmaging.
“One play goes by and there is a dead ball and Kobe is walking back onto the floor. All he did was tie his shoes tighter and walk back into practice. The next day when I walked into the training room, his ankle was probably as fat as my thigh. It was big. So, to me, to see the determination that man had to finish the right way with an injury like that, it just increased the respect level I had for him.”
Brown said in hindsight he probably shouldn't have allowed Bryant to return to practice. Brown is comfortable with Bryant playing through the pain from his wrist injury because he has been cleared by the team's medical staff.
Bryant gave former Lakers coach Phil Jackson “leeway to make decisions” on his injuries, and said Brown has the same power. But given Bryant's legendary stubbornness, it will be a challenge for the new coach to decide when to rest his star guard.
“It’s tough to monitor him because he doesn’t complain about anything,” Brown said. “I’ve been around him a short amount of time and he hasn’t complained about one thing. I’m trying to watch him to make sure he doesn’t overdo it because I know he won’t watch himself. Mentally and physically, he is about as tough as they come."
Now 33 and in the twilight of his career, Bryant doesn't want to waste time sitting on the bench. And with this season's schedule shortened to 66 games because of the lockout, every win counts.
“There are no excuses,” Bryant said. “You got to be smart about it. You can’t make it worse, but you got to go out there and play. This is painful and so forth. But it’s not going to be worse. You might as well suck it up and go out and perform.
“There are a lot of fans who expect me to go out there and play, play hard and play well. … For me, the end is closer than the beginning and I want to enjoy every chance I can get.”
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Were Saints right to run up the score for Drew Brees' record?
• LSU's Les Miles makes Tigers sing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'
• Josh Hamilton, Ichiro could heat up MLB's hot stove in 2012-13