The Lakers have played over three seasons worth of games since Kobe Bryant last missed one due to injury. Suspension, yes, but not since Dec. 8, 2006 against the Hawks has a breakdown in 24's body kept him in street clothes while his mates took the floor. (By the way, Luke Walton scored 25 points that night, proving Kobe is all that stands between him and a scoring title.) Tonight in Dallas, his streak could be threatened thanks to back spasms suffered in Tuesday night's loss against the Spurs that left him looking stiffer than Bernie Lomax before he finally had to call it quits at the end of the third quarter.
While he's officially listed as a game-time decision, his words after San Antonio- "If I can walk, I'll play"- indicate where this story is heading. I'm sure L.A.'s cornucopia of additional injuries- no Pau Gasol, plus a hammy pull for Sasha Vujacic and a sprained right index finger for Ron Artest (kind of ironic, actually)- will only further compel him to strap up and play. That is, after all, what Kobe Bryant does. (He's the Dalton of hoops, as we note in the newest K Bros PodKast.)
But should he?
I respect how Kobe will grit his teeth and compete through anything, transforming every injury into a challenge played out on a sliding scale of "Damn, no way he succeeds with that!" Totally impressive, it is. At some point, though, does it become counterproductive? First it's the finger, now the back (with an elbow in between). The former is obviously painful and impacting of his play, changing how he has to shoot throughout a game. The latter can grind even the strongest of men to a halt. Back injuries are the great equalizers of NBA superstars and weekend warriors alike. We all know the look Kobe had on his face Tuesday night, we all recognized the gait.
It isn't fun.
So if rest could help clear up the problem ahead of Friday's re-rematch against the Clippers and important games next week against the Magic and Cavs, shouldn't he take it? Is it worth screwing with back problems now if there's a greater risk they could flare up again later?
Keep in mind, I have no inside knowledge of what's going on with Kobe's treatment. I understand the Lakers canceled shootaround today, no surprise given the current state of their squad (too many injuries for a morning run), so we won't know if Bryant plays until closer to tip (he's officially a game time decision). Maybe this one clears up, and he's good to go by 5:30 pm PT. If it's not this malady, though, down the road there will surely be another. At some point, does Kobe's determination to play through pain become counterproductive? The ethos motivates him and will sometimes produce amazing, awe-inspiring results, but it also feeds on itself.
"I played through (insert something painful here), so I can play through (insert something more painful here.)"
Even Kobe has his limits, right?
He's already earned the respect. The first thing most Lakers fans say when seeing another player sit out? "Kobe would play with that." Sprained wrist? Dislocated finger? Compound fracture to the fibula? Doesn't matter. "Kobe would play through that." And they're probably right.
Maybe I'm just one voice here, but if he's doing it for my benefit, he can stop. There's a balance between valor and discretion. Is it outrageous to worry he might lose it?
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