Lakers Nation is awash in good feelings today following the most resounding win of the season. When you head into the belly of the beast and annihilate them as thoroughly as the Los Angeles Lakers were able to do to the San Antonio Spurs yesterday, no number of fluke-y, outlier performances can dampen the natural high that is the result. You know about Andrew Bynum's ridiculous defensive dominance. You know about Metta World Peace's turn as Mamba-heavy.
But what about Kobe? For years, we've been treated to a steady dose of two things from Kobe Bryant: Stellar play with his own particular brand of stubborn adherence to Mamba style, and the concept that Kobe Bryant would rather clean his mansion with a toothbrush than miss a single regular season game. Over the past four seasons, Kobe has played 82, 73, 82, and 82 games, playing through a list of injuries that might kill a lesser man along the way. Broken finger? no problem. Busted Knee? No problem. Concussion? No problem.
Inflamed Shin? Problem.
The last occurrence of Kobe Bryant missing time is when he missed 9 games in 2010 with a pretty severe ankle sprain. The list of injuries he's played through have included plenty of minor sprains in the past, so you know that it was a pretty significant injury for him to miss so much time. If nothing else, Kobe has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing through pain. Nobody in the league does it better, or more often, than Kobe.
But, even as it is one of Kobe's more endearing qualities, the same quality is also one of the most maddening. Sometimes, his playing through pain isn't very successful. Sometimes, his lack of mobility while fighting through whatever can be a detriment to his team. Sometimes, having to adjust the way he shoots the ball on the fly takes a few games to work through. It's not really fair to criticize Kobe for these issues, but there is a solid vein of truth in the statement that Kobe's unwillingness to sit due to injury sometimes does his team more harm than good.
Which brings us to the current situation. If you've been following along at home, Kobe has something called tenosynovitis. It's basically inflammation of the left shin, and trainer Gary Vitti says its the type of thing that won't get better unless Kobe shuts it down, but the key phrase here is that it won't get better. Kobe's played through lots of injuries that won't get better unless he lets the injury heal. This particular injury seems like a tendonitis or arthritis type that has to do with the amount of mileage you've put on your body, but we've seen Kobe play through that before too. Throw all the evidence together and you are left flummoxed, with only two possible answers.
- Kobe has figured out that he's going to have to ease off the throttle a little bit as his body ages. That these injuries that can just as easily be described as "old man working too hard" need to be massaged with resting the occasional game or decreased minutes per contest, or maybe even going easier on his body in the off season. Or ...
- We're fucked.
It's pretty simple really. For years, Kobe has made his policy on playing time pretty clear. If I'm not going to make the injury any worse, I'm going to play. If the only reason why I'm hurting is because of soreness, I'm going to play. If the only issue here is continued and increasing pain, I'm going to play. Now, Kobe has an injury for which there is no cure, and he's chosen to rest the injury instead of playing through it.
I don't intend to sound the doomsday alarms here. No matter the cause, and no matter the significance of Kobe's injuries, we should all be happy that he's missing time right now, especially if the Lakers can maintain their form in his absence. The concept that Kobe Bryant has played too many minutes this season is clear to every human being on earth not named Mike Brown or Kobe Bryant, and any excuse to have him miss a few games now for enhanced performance later is one we should be thrilled about. And for the record, if you asked me which of the two presupposed options I think is going on, I believe the answer lies much closer to number 1 than to number 2. I think Kobe is far too smart to live on forever in this world in which he should never rest an ailment, because to do so will shorten his effective career.
All I'm saying is that Kobe Bryant missing time is a rare occurrence, and that the logic Kobe previously applied to the decision of whether or not to suit up for a professional basketball game is still true, the Lakers are in for a world of trouble. Kobe Bryant is a smart guy, smart enough to have finally given in to the concept that he he is a mortal being.
But if he hasn't figured that out, and he's still missing games due to an inflammation of the shin? Whoa boy, that could be trouble.