Prior to the game, there was plenty of chatter regarding Kobe’s ankle. No one knew how effective he would play and many wondered if he should play at all.
The incident happened in the closing minutes of Game 4. Bryant appeared to severely injure his left ankle while guarding Willie Green. He was seen leaving the arena on crutches and was later diagnosed with a sprained ankle.
When Kobe went down, many wondered if the Lakers’ three-peat chances went down with him. Bryant had injured the same ankle just over a month ago in what he called the worst sprain of his career.
Despite his history of ankle injuries, Kobe refused to undergo any foot examinations. Team doctors urged him to get X-Rays or an MRI, but Bryant would have none of that. He was going to play in Game 5 and no one could persuade him otherwise.
Kobe started slow in Game 5, moving gingerly on his sore ankle. He didn’t take a single shot in the first quarter and appeared to be more of a decoy than a five-time champion.
But in the second quarter, Kobe came alive.
On one possession, he head faked Trevor Ariza, drove the ball to the hoop and threw down an amazing one-handed dunk over Emeka Okafor’s outstretched hand.
A few possessions later, Kobe cut through the lane and finished with an emphatic slam—this time using his left hand.
Bryant scored bucket after bucket and finished with 19 points in a 106-90 Lakers victory. The ankle looked great and so did the Lakers.
In an interview with Cheryl Miller, Kobe said he was effective because his injured ankle loosened up as the game progressed.
On the TNT telecast, Charles Barkley shared a different opinion.
Barkley: "He wasn't hurt. He might have tweaked his ankle a little bit, but listen—he didn't go to the doctor because he knew it wasn't bad. No guy makes the plays he makes if he's all on his death bed and they read his last rights. Give me a break.”
Ernie Johnson: "So those crutches were for show when he left the arena the other night?"
Barkley: “Yeah, just like the night he went out and shot for another hour after they lost to Miami. Of course. He loves the drama. That guy can't make plays like that with a bad ankle. Stop it y'all!"
While Barkley’s words are harsh, could they be true? Kobe has been known to seek out opportunities to prove his greatness and has always had a flair for the dramatic.
Phil Jackson once said that a credible source told him that Kobe would toy with high school games to make them more competitive. He would allow his team to fall behind so that he could rally them to victory.
But would Kobe go so far as to fake an injury so that he could play superhero?
With the series tied at two games apiece and his team underperforming, did Kobe pretend to have a severely sprained ankle?
While he can sometimes be a bit of a drama queen, Bryant has proven to be tough as nails. He works harder than anyone else and leaves everything he has on the floor. Kobe’s team needed him to show up in Game 5 and he delivered.
The Lakers are now one win away from clinching the series and Kobe’s ankle appears to be okay. Some might say it was a miraculous recovery. Some might say he tricked everyone into thinking he was seriously injured and that his ankle was fine all along.
Regardless of what’s said, Lakers’ fans can take comfort that Kobe didn’t leave the game in a wheelchair only to return a few minutes later.
Those theatrics are saved for Paul Pierce.