If Willie Green hadn’t been the guy that Kobe Bryant was trying to guard on his way to experiencing "the ankle sprain" felt around the world, I would’ve assumed the former was still a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
There is absolutely nothing more fascinating in basketball -- aside from watching J.R. Smith be J.R. Smith -- than noticing a player has suited up for a particular team when you thought he was still playing for someone else.
The reason, mind you, that Kobe didn’t command more of my attention during those critical moments as he hobbled around on the court and eventually towards the bench, is because it was an absolute certainty that he would return. If Kobe can stand and Kobe is breathing – Kobe will play.
And therein lies the problem, apparently.
The quandary first reared its ugly head when the injury happened and Phil Jackson motioned for his superstar to come off the court. Shannon Brown was sent in so that team trainer Garry Vitti could have a look at the ankle that failed all of Los Angeles. But no, Kobe didn’t want to come out.
Finally, after a few seconds of coaxing, a dirty look from Jackson and the referees telling Kobe that he had to do it because Brown had already checked in for him, Kobe limped off the court. Vitti attended to the man who single-handedly -- with his perpetual desire to play through pain -- was sending the next four generations of his family through college, but it wasn’t easy. Kobe was shifting from one foot to the other, moving back and forth and being a general pain to deal with. He wanted back in.
Eventually, his wish was granted and he was sent back in. Kobe would play the rest of the game to the best of his abilities. But ultimately, David beat Goliath for the second time in the series. At that point, the ankle became a focal point of NBA playoff talk.
Everyone has heard the story by now. The team wanted Kobe to get an MRI and X-rays for the ankle, but he refused. There was no point, he told anyone that asked him. He would play regardless of what the injury is, including "missing foot." Barring Jack Nicholson brandishing a shotgun and leading him into Vitti’s office, Kobe was guaranteed to be in uniform, mad as heck and fully ready to throw more great passes that Pau Gasol would no doubt fumble away in Game 5.
What’s truly great about this whole situation is, somehow, Kobe’s inherent will to win -- that has fueled him to five championships, countless personal accolades and the reputation that he currently has as the fiercest competitor in the game -- is now a bad thing.
Kobe is hurting Kobe by trying to lead the Lakers against a team that has a very real shot at beating the two-time defending champs. Therefore, Kobe is an awful, self-centered person.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. Contradictory praise/blame has been as much of a foundation of Kobe’s career as his warrior spirit and desire to be the best. He’s the selfish passer, ball hog closer and horrible-to-play-with great teammate. He’s the least clutch player to be voted most clutch by his peers, the most overrated best player in the game, etc.
This situation is no different. Kobe deems himself ready to play, but that isn’t enough, apparently. He doesn’t know as much as the medical staff who hasn’t inspected him, the fans watching from home or the critics who are always praying for an injury to happen.
God forbid if Kobe came out and said that he wouldn’t play on Tuesday night because of his ankle. The criticism would pour down like ill-advised Russell Westbrook jumpers with a potential sweep in sight.
Kobe isn’t like Michael Jordan. Kobe isn’t tough. Kobe is done.
The best thing about it, of course, is that Kobe is in a lose-lose situation even if he were to get the tests done. If something serious shows up, then the critics will either say he’s: a.) hurting the team by playing or, b.) putting on a me-first show despite what’s best for the Lakers. If the tests showed that Kobe was okay, then he’s a crybaby.
I’m far more worried about the injuries that may arise from Kobe’s knack for being stuck between The Rock of Gibraltar and Gregg Popovich’s heart with every decision he makes than I am about the status of this specific injury.
Kobe is going to play. Kobe will not go down to the Hornets without a fight. Because that’s just what Kobe does.
Case closed. Next issue.