May 8, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts after making a 3-point basket during game five of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will attempt a feat that would be completely stereotypical of the brand of basketball we Lakers fans have been privy to the past 4+ years, to close out a playoff series on their opponent's home floor after getting dominated on their own home floor due to apathy. I'll just get this out of the way right now, I think they will be up to the task. In fact, I've thought they would be up to task since before the series began, and that includes the part where being up to the task is necessary because the series has progressed this far. A game 6 win, in Denver, to win the series, has seemed inevitable to me since it became clear the Denver Nuggets would be the first round opponent.
But as a dose of added intrigue, its been reported that Kobe Bryant is sick with a stomach problem. If you think there's a chance in hell of him missing a game due to a stomach virus, you've got another thing coming. No, the added intrigue brought on by this development is not of the "How will the Lakers deal without their leader?" variety. Its more along the lines of how will Kobe handle the adversity of trying to perform your best against your own body's will. How weakened will Kobe be by whatever bug he has picked up? How will it affect his play? And will he attempt to be the hero even more than usual because of the adversity he now faces?
The obvious parallel here is Michael Jordan's legendary Flu game. On June 11th, 1997, playing with a bout of stomach flu so severe that he often needed to be supported, or even outright carried, to the bench, locker room, etc. MJ played 44 minutes, scored 38 points, including the game winning 3 pointer with less than 30 seconds remaining, and also pulled down 7 boards and 5 assists. In a career filled with memorable moments of domination, Jordan never came close, before or after, to appearing so vulnerable while still being so good. It's a moment so memorable that 15 years later, Gatorade has made it the pinnacle of one of their new TV spots.
This isn't the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan, and does not want to be. There was a time, earlier in his career, when it seemed like Kobe was determined to do everything in the same way that Jordan did it, but that time has long since passed. Kobe is now quite clearly his own man as a basketball player, and he's done plenty of things that Jordan never did. That's not to say he's a better player than Jordan; no matter how you slice it, Kobe still has a lot of work to do for that even to be a reasonable debate, but the point is that he's no longer emulating Jordan's style, if indeed he ever did.
But Kobe being the player that he is, rising in the face of adversity is exactly the kind of thing that might juice his desire. When he struggles with his shot, he shoots more. When his team is down 20, he tries harder (even though he was already trying hard in the first place). So you can bet if he's sick, if he's feeling like crap, if he's lacking energy, his natural response will be to kick things in to overdrive. It is for that reason that we can have no reasonable idea of what might happen in tonight's contest. He might try to push through and succeed, providing us with yet another legendary performance in a long list of them. He might try to play the hero and fail, providing us with yet another legendary example of his hubris. Or maybe I'm blowing this whole thing out of proportion and his will be the normal Kobe Bryant vintage.
But hey, if we're lucky, maybe we'll be hearing about this game in 15 years.