Being a fan of any competitive team in the NBA not named the Lakers can often result in disappointment. Sure, this season they didn’t appear to be the dominant force they were in previous years, but the hearts they’ve broken over the past 13 or so years are well aware of their capabilities. Players have come and gone, yet LA typically manages to remain a competitive, championship caliber team who at the very least has a shot; a best punch that’s arguably better than anyone else’s. That of course, is Kobe Bryant.
I won’t even begin trying to list the amazing things we’ve had the pleasure of watching Bryant do for all these years because I’ll probably run out of Internet. However, even a casual NBA fan knows his résumé. Often when watching him constantly win, I’ve felt frustrated. See, if you support a team that’s on the cusp of winning a title themselves, and you’ve got to watch Kobe & co. come in and crush your dreams, a little resentment can develop. The loyalty to your team in you hates Kobe. The basketball fan in you is well aware that you’re watching one of the best players ever, and can recognize that you’ll hate to see the day he calls it quits.
Last night Kobe went down with a torn Achilles. Here’s a clip for those who haven’t caught it on one of the 234 SportsCenter replays.
For about 95% of the game, I, and many others, were hoping to see the Lakers lose. This game was crucial to their playoff run and if they make it, that means trouble for whomever they’re playing. Kobe went down and it was kind of a forgone conclusion that he’d be fine. Anyone who has watched this season knows that Bryant, at 34, has been battered and hampered by injuries all year long, yet he’s played through ’em – and done so effectively. Injuries that would keep some out for weeks, but Kobe only misses a game. Lingering pains that many would sit out during, yet Kobe is on the court, being a nightmare for opponents.
Do you remember being assigned group projects in school? If you had an underachieving teacher who partnered you with a couple of underperforming kids and C-students capable of A’s if they worked out a few kinks, you were then left carrying the heavy lifting. That’s what watching the Lakers has seemed like this year. Numerous times Kobe’s put the entire squad on his back and essentially carried them to victory. So when he went down I thought, Oh, he’ll be alright. He even limped his way to the line and knocked down a couple free throws before exiting. He’s invincible, that guy.
It wasn’t until after the game that more reports poured in suggesting a possible torn Achilles. That’s serious stuff. Kobe won’t just miss the next game or have to wait for the playoffs to return – he won’t be back for a while, they said. Suddenly I was legitimately bummed out. The San Antonio Spurs fan in me didn’t want to face and possibly lose to Lakers in the playoffs, but my inner basketball fan realized everybody lost when Kobe went down. It’s bad for the Lakers, the league, the spirit of competition, the fans – everybody. Watching Kobe’s interview shortly thereafter didn’t help any.
Seeing Kobe tear up during the interview and hearing reports throw around words like “retirement” and ask questions like “Could this be it?” was shocking. I mean, with no inside scoop and making an educated guess based solely on my years of watching, I would be shocked if Kobe Bryant has played his last game. In fact, the only reason I’m refraining from saying “I KNOW he will be back,” is because I don’t want to jinx the inevitable return. Yes, I’d bet my bottom dollar that we haven’t seen the last of the Black Mamba, especially considering his Facebook post:
What we have gotten a glimpse of through this injury is what it will feel like when he decides he’s done. After all these years of watching, you almost become desensitized to his greatness. Fade-away jumper falling out of bounds with two defenders in his face? Meh, cool, I guess. The degree of difficulty is made to look so easy that we sometimes forget how amazing his performances are. It was clear to me last night that I’m not ready to stop watching Kobe, and I think I can speak for any true basketball fan when I say it’ll be brutal to see him go. Can’t he just play ’til he’s 80?
Maybe he’ll be back next season. Maybe it’ll take longer. There’s speculation that it may take missing a year to come back at 100%. Who knows? All we can hope is that he makes a full recovery and comes back as capable as ever, even if that means trouble for my beloved Spurs, and the rest of the league. Whether it’s in November 2013 or November 2014, the next time I see Kobe Bryant walk on a basketball court, I’ll be sure to appreciate it. When he dribbles past defenders, spins, pump fakes, and fades away for a huge bucket, I’ll make sure not to take what I’m witnessing for granted. Because the day Kobe Bryant is actually gone, I mean for good, we’re going to miss him.