Has Kobe Bryant Set an Impossible Superstar Standard Among Lakers Fans?
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The five-time world champion is the NBA’s modern day iron man given his ability to simply brush off injuries and suit up for games. Throughout his career, Bryant has dealt with a string of debilitating health issues that should have kept him sidelined for huge chunks of the Lakers’ season, and yet he has persevered and missed minimal time.
Furthermore, regardless of the nature of his injuries, the former league MVP has adjusted his game accordingly and has continued to play at a high level. Bleacher Report’s own Joshua Sexton did a terrific job of breaking down the numerous physical ailments that Bryant has faced throughout his career, and the games he consequently missed.
Between shoulder surgery, a back injury during the 2008 playoffs and a torn ligament on his shooting wrist to name a few, the four-time All-Star Game MVP has been subjected to some fairly significant injuries.
For instance, during the 2010 playoffs, Bryant’s right knee became a source of concern and had to be drained on a few occasions. The pain became incredibly bothersome for the 2-guard, and in an effort to remedy the situation, he flew to Germany in the 2010 summer where he received a derivation of platelet-rich plasma therapy.
Grantland’s Jonah Lehrer explained the reasons that prompted Bryant to go all the way to Germany for this treatment:
The reason Kobe [Bryant], A-Rod, and other athletes travel to Germany for their biologic treatments involves a vague FDA regulation that mandates that all human tissues (such as blood and bone marrow) can only be "minimally manipulated," or else they are classified as a drug and subject to much stricter governmental regulations.
Bryant’s willingness to travel across the world for an innovative procedure speaks to his competitive spirit and the high standards he has set for himself in terms of his availability for games.
During his 17-year career, he has appeared in over 90 percent of games the Lakers have played and has not shown any signs of slippage whatsoever. The former Slam Dunk champ has countered the decline of his physical capabilities by adding additional layers to his overall game.
The two-time Finals MVP can no longer consistently elevate and finish over players with authority. He has compensated for that change by refining his back-to-the-basket game and becoming the most destructive post-up guard since Michael Jordan.
The comparisons with the six-time champion do not end there. Much like Bryant, Jordan appeared in over 90 percent of the Chicago Bulls’ games and micro-managed his body in an effort to play and win at all costs.
The five-time league MVP redefined the expectations of heart and toughness during the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan played Game 5 of the championship round against the Utah Jazz despite oftentimes looking as though he would lose consciousness.
He was feeling the effects of a stomach virus that was supposed to keep him sidelined. Jordan’s personal trainer, Tim Grover, has theorized that the former Bulls superstar was actually dealing with food poisoning.
Nonetheless, Jordan suited up and produced one of the most iconic performances in NBA history. He scored 38 points and led the Bulls to victory. Chicago clinched the title in the following game.
Bryant has not experienced a moment of that magnitude on basketball’s biggest stage, but there is something to be said about his preparation to avoid such instances altogether.
There was an instance midway through the Lakers guard’s career in which he injured his right shoulder during a regular season game and initially refused to sit out. Instead he chose to play the game left-handed.
Read that last sentence again.
Bryant brought the ball up the floor and shot it with his off-hand without even the slightest of hesitation. Phil Jackson, his head coach at the time, eventually had him removed from the contest.
With that said, his dedication to the Lakers and the game of basketball simply cannot be questioned given the amount of times he has raced back from injury to lead the Lakers. This partly explains the optimism revolving around Bryant’s recovery from Achilles surgery.
The rupture he suffered at the conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign could have potentially ended his career. And yet, the expectation from ownership, management, teammates and fans alike is that Bryant will not only return in great form, but he will do so in record time.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer casts an incredibly large shadow on the league’s superstars given the pressure that he places on himself to play. Very few elite players can actually match him on this front. His longevity coupled with his durability are truly the stuff of legends.
In truth, Lakers fans probably need to temper their expectations going forward. The future Hall of Fame player has blessed the franchise with his greatness for so long that it is easy to take it for granted on occasion.
The one constant the organization has been able to focus on since the mid-1990s is Bryant. At some point the team will replace the superstar and ask the heir to pave the way into the future.
The most glamorous franchise in basketball will expect nothing less than elite-level play, multiple championships and durability. Lakers fans will make these very same demands regardless of how unrealistic they may be.
The same was asked of Dwight Howard during his stint in Los Angeles and it led to his departure from the Purple and Gold during the 2013 summer.
The former Defensive Player of the Year played with an injured back and torn labrum during the 2012-13 campaign but still faced the pressure of rushing back into the lineup after missing a couple of games.
Bryant publicly demanded that Howard suit up and Laker Nation echoed his sentiments. The superstar center displayed a great amount of toughness in playing with those injuries but never received the credit for it because that is what fans and the organization have become accustomed largely due to Bryant.
One has to question whether the next great Laker will be as dedicated and relentless as the 17-year veteran. Mind you, in the event he is not, the Lakers faithful have to accept that.
After all, there is only one Kobe Bryant.
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