Kobe Bryant has gone through a torturous eighteen months since going down with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 2013 season. Conor O’Mahony discusses the Black Mamba’s impending return.
During the 2012-2013 season the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant faced every situation imaginable. The Lakers trotted out 5 All Stars on opening night* and looked for all the world to be real championship contenders. Head Coach Mike Brown, never known for his offense, introduced a new offensive strategy, the Princeton Offense.
This backfired spectacularly. How Brown came to the conclusion that the Princeton offense was the best way to utilise the skills of his two new acquisitions this writer will never know. Dwight Howard does his best offensive work on the screen and roll. The Princeton offense, though, calls for the center to operate out of the high post primarily as a passer, with the threat of a mid-range jumper to keep the defense honest.
The offensive also neutralised Nash’s ability to put pressure on defences and create easy opportunities for his teammates off the dribble. Running Princeton meant less pick and rolls, and nullified the effectiveness of both Howard and Nash.
Brown paid for this glaring error with his job. But it’s what the Lakers did next that really consigned the team to the doldrums. With team owner Dr Jerry Buss ailing**, his son Jim Buss assumed corporate control. He had a choice to make, Mike D’Antonio or Phil Jackson to replace Brown. Buss chose D’Antoni, after initially speaking with Phil, who asked for 2 days to make up his mind. Buss did not wait, and instead appointed D’Antoni. In the pantheon of terrible ownership positions, that decision occupies a lofty spot.
In D’Antoni’s defence, the team was hit with a slew of injuries, and that combined with below par displays from everyone whose name was not Kobe Bryant, meant that the season was always going to be difficult.
The team was not playing well, and looked to be out of the Western Conference Playoffs race. Bickering between players over how many shots they were getting, lack of faith in D’Antoni and his offense by players and fans alike, and crippling injuries made this so.
But amidst the turmoil emerged one beacon of light. Kobe Bryant. He simply would not die, would not allow the door to be shut. With the team in dire need of wins he took drastic action, sacrificing his body, he began playing 48 minutes a night, refusing to come out of games.
Bryant’s play was outstanding. His resurgence in play led the team to a 25-point comeback against the New Orleans Hornets, and a thriller versus Toronto in which he made three consecutive triples to force overtime, as well as the game-winning dunk in the extra period. Bryant had 41 points in the comeback victory.
Knowing that Bryant would do whatever it took to keep the Lakers afloat, D’Antoni milked his star for every ounce of energy he had, until there was nothing left. He was being asked to be the team’s primary scorer, serve as the team’s playmaker and defensive lynchpin. With so much riding on every game as the season drew to a close, Kobe essentially usurped his coach, in refusing to come out of games.
Something had to give. Playing through a multitude of injuries already, Kobe suffered from cramp, one would presume as a result of the copious minutes he was playing. Eventually Kobe’s Achilles tendon did give.
The date was April 12th and The Lakers were hosting the scorching hot Golden State Warriors. Los Angeles were down big mid-way through the game, as was a common theme of Lakers games at the time. Bryant went off however, scoring at will, dragging the Lakers back into the game. Kobe hit back to back 3’s to make it a two point game.
The next possession down, Kobe called an isolation play. He made a move on Harrison Barnes, but before he even got to the lane he went down hard. No contact had occurred (the referee did however call a foul), but Kobe was clearly severely injured.
A timeout was called. Kobe limped over to the bench, shellshocked. He knew.
After the timeout, Kobe got up off the bench and walked excruciatingly slowly to the free throw line. With no lift in his shot, he nailed both FT’S. The Warriors checked in the ball, Kobe unable to move had to have one of his teammates intentionally foul someone to get him off the court.
Bryant walked off the court to a standing ovation, as fans, teammates and even Jack Nicholson looked on, unsure of his status moving forward.
Up to that point Bryant was playing at one of the highest and most efficient levels of his life. In an instant all this became meaningless.
Kobe took to his Facebook page to voice his anger. I will post his rant in full, as I think it is one of the greatest things that has ever happened on Facebook. You can taste the anger in words.
“This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??
I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me…Then again maybe not! It’s 3:30am, my foot feels like dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain meds and I’m wide awake. Forgive my venting but what’s the purpose of social media if I won’t bring it to you Real No Image?? Feels good to vent, let it out. To feel as if THIS is the WORST thing EVER! Because After ALL the venting, a real perspective sets in. There are far greater issues/challenges in the world than a torn achilles. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever.
One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.
If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the bear. I’ve always loved that quote. Thats “mamba mentality” we don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer. I know it’s a long post but I’m Facebook Venting LOL. Maybe now I can actually get some sleep and be excited for surgery tomorrow. First step of a new challenge.
Guess I will be Coach Vino the rest of this season. I have faith in my teammates. They will come thru.
Thank you for all your prayers and support. Much Love Always.
Mamba Out “
After an arduous rehabilitation process Kobe returned to the court on December 8th. But only 6 games into his comeback he blew out his knee, suffering a lateral tibial plateau fracture. The Lakers struggled mightily without their talisman finishing the season with a 27-55 record.
Heading into this season, Kobe Bryant faces his biggest challenge. Now 36, the fire still burns inside him, but it is a different kind of fire. Last week, on Lakers media day he was in cerebral form. Typically Bryant is defiant, extremely self-assured and serious. Asked what his biggest challenge this season will be he replied,” Trying to prove to myself I can be myself, and all the words of doubt kind of adds to it.”
One must remember Kobe is known for his unshakable confidence. This is the guy who said that he was not worried that the team was down 3-0 to the Mavericks in 2011.
The concern is real. This is no longer about the opposition; it is about beating the limits of his own body, about somehow recapturing the magic that led him to 5 Rings and 16 All Star appearances.
Bryant this year will be part of a Laker team that will likely struggle mightily in a historically strong Western Conference. Whisper it furtively, but The Lakers may in fact be in rebuilding mode.
Do not however believe for an instant that Kobe will be of this mindset going into the season. New coach Byron Scott has him excited.
“Our primary focus is to be great defensively, and that involves taking that challenge every single night.”
His quickness will likely be slower, which will affect his ability to stay in front of people on the defensive end. Kobe knows this, and much of his self-doubt going into the season will stem from this.
Offensively he will remain effective, of this he is certain.
“Offensively I can always dictate what I’m going to do. That will not change.”
In those 2 sentences the unwavering confidence is back. His body may betray him, but that shot will continue to fall.
I wish the Black Mamba the best in his return. This is his greatest challenge yet, back against him at your peril.
Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena.
*Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard
**Dr Jim Buss passed away after a long term cancer illness on the 18th of February at 80 years of age. R.IP.
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