LOS ANGELES—With the return of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to the court Sunday, in spite of the 106-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, things around Los Angeles and in STAPLES Center just seemed right again.
In his first post-game news conference, Bryant was back dropping his usual off-the-cuff comments and holding court in front of the Experian-sponsored Lakers banner with a smile that filled the entire press room.
A smile eight months in the making.
A grin that, for never taking a day off during his recovery and fighting seven days a week just to get back on the court, was well-deserved and a relief to see.
A return that some never expected and some doubted could ever happen.
Now officially on the books for the 2013-14 season, Kobe Bryant is up to his usual tricks—staying awake until 2:00 AM watching film on the game he just played against the Toronto Raptors to improve on his performance and challenge himself to get better.
Kobe finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists on 29 minutes of play, but just the mere fact that he has game footage to analyze is extraordinary in and of itself.
Forget the stats: Kobe’s return Sunday night at STAPLES Center meant so much more than Game 20 of the NBA season.
It was a living tribute to the work ethic that’s defined one the greatest legacies in sport and an entirely new accomplishment from the most decorated and distinguished player in the league today.
Whether he played one minute or the whole 48 on Sunday, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Bryant won just by returning to the court, and whether we were recording the game at home or watching it live, we all knew it.
Having no statistics to his name for the 2013-14 season, the STAPLES Center crowd erupted into their customary “M-V-P!” chant when Kobe Bryant first stepped to the line in the first quarter of Sunday’s game to nail a free throw for his first point.
His mere presence on the floor was the most valuable part of the season.
Those who have followed Bryant’s career shouldn’t have been surprised to see him back on the floor eight months after a clean tear to his left Achilles.
Yet becoming accustomed to Kobe Bryant defying the odds time and time again doesn’t make the Mamba's latest feat any less remarkable.
It is a testament to the hardest-working player in the game who, when faced with a truly daunting challenge for any athlete his age, forcibly "shattered" the typical recovery time for an Achilles tear in his 18th NBA season.
While Kobe would like to forget the 2-for-9 shooting performance, it was a night Laker fans will always remember.
For all the twists and turns that have rocked Lakerland the past few seasons, there was finally something the fan base could get excited about.
This was something we were all familiar with.
This was something we could all rally around.
While his teammate and fellow compatriot from the famed 1996 NBA Draft Steve Nash is battling just to make a return of his own, Bryant is instead back on the tracks and in full swing.
Sunday night, we were reminded once again of the insane work ethic—the ‘No Days Off’ mentality that fuels Bryant's other-worldly drive to be the greatest of all time.
Sunday night, the Dark Knight returned for Gotham’s reckoning.
The Mamba was back for another venomous 81-point attack.
Perhaps it was Darth Vader resuming his imperial march, or simply the latest homecoming for the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.
However you slice Kobe's return or his performance here on out, all was right on Sunday.
For Laker fans and the worlds they encompass, that old fashioned feeling was finally back.