Kobe About to Earn Stripes

Last week doctors diagnosed Kobe Bryant with a complete ligament tear in his right pinkie finger, an injury he first sustained on February 5th in New Jersey. Since then, after one dud in a loss at Atlanta, Kobe has reeled three 30+ point games, a 29-point performance, shot over 40% and played over 40 minutes three times, in leading the new look Lakers to four straight injuries. All before even stopping to have the injury fully diagnosed, an injury that would immediately sideline most players.

Now Bryant faces surgery and six-weeks in civies, or figuring out how to play through it. Easy choice, right. Have the surgery, return rested and healthy right in time for a few early April warm-up games leading into the playoffs. Not so fast. Not this year, not in this conference. If Kobe takes a seat next to Bynum on LA’s suddenly crowded inactive list, the Lakers season ends after that week of warm-up games in April, giving him ample time to prep for Bejing. If he puts off the surgery, plays on, Bynum returns and forms a chemistry with Gasol and Bryant in the triangle offense, Jack Nicholson needs to keep that third week in June open for possible NBA Finals games at the Staple Center.

Eight months ago, we railed Bryant for his public crusade to force a trade. We criticized the discouraging comments about youngster Andrew Bynum. Called Kobe selfish, laughed at how he now got a taste of his own medicine for pushing Shaq out, transforming LA from title contender to a one man, one playoff round show. Kobe listened, he learned, he all but admitted the mistake this week, saying “thank god I’m not the GM.” He became a team player, finally listened to the Zen Master, the kid started to blossom, then the front office got the help he wanted, the proven second option to spread the defense. Result – LA sits only 1.5 games from the best in the West, and is only closing in.

Now this. Through it all, even when his public image took a beating, Kobe always brought his A-game, his A-effort to the court. Is there any doubt if he’ll opt for surgery? No chance. He smells a chance at the crown, six years after last winning it, Bryant knows how precious the opportunities are. Come hell or high water, doctors will have to force Kobe off the court. If he has the choice, surgery will wait. Beware Western Conference, Bryant’s on a mission, and he just loaded his gun with more ammo – the chance to prove his mettle and toughness, take another step into NBA lore by pulling a pseudo Willis Reed for half a season.


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