Kobe Bryant Injury: Shocked, the Lakers' Character Will Be Measured by Response

William Van NollFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during a game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on December 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, Calif.—What do you do when it all comes falling down?

They say life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.

Through all the successes and setbacks in his storied career, from tragedy to triumph, Kobe Bryant has proven he knows how to respond.

His fire burns an unshakable flame that every July—whether coming off of a championship campaign or a disappointing first-round playoff exit—becomes reignited to make his next return more productive, more explosive, more remarkable than ever.

Early in his career, it was the bright lights of the big dance that fueled this fire.

During the early 2000's three-peat, it was the desire to be the greatest winner of the greatest dynasty in franchise history.

After Shaquille O'Neal's departure from Los Angeles, it was showing the nonbelievers that Bryant could win championships on his own without the Hall of Fame big man.

After the 2009 and 2010 championships that followed, it was being a torchbearer for the U.S. Olympic team and global goodwill ambassador for the game.

And no doubt, this last offseason, Bryant's fire was lit to prove his doubters wrong and come back stronger after cleanly tearing his Achilles at the tender age of 35.

Now, with news of the Black Mamba getting knocked down for an estimated six weeks with a fracture to his lateral left tibial plateau, Bryant's tested flame faces yet another moment of turbulence.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to physical therapist Judy Seto during a game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on December 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

How cruel the game can be.

After laboring for eight months just to return from his Achilles tear, it took Bryant only six games before suffering a wayward fracture in his left knee on a spin move Tuesday night versus the Memphis Grizzlies to unjustly send him back to the rehab shelf for another round in his heavyweight bout against Father Time.

For someone who worked so hard to get back to form, it almost doesn't seem fair.

But when has adversity ever taken pity on its host?

Bryant certainly doesn't need the compassion or the empathy; he already has new fuel to light his fire.

He wants to leave the game he's dedicated his life to on his own terms, as he told Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding.

A bone fracture will certainly not be how this warrior exits the game. Not now. Not on Kobe's watch.

That still doesn't make this latest obstacle for the future Hall of Famer any less disheartening.

"Thank you my fellow nba brothers for all the luv and support #Respect" read Kobe's evening Tweet after receiving words of well wishes from teammates and players throughout the league, including LeBron James.

Now it's back to being a bird on the wire for the Black Mamba, watching the game he loves and simply can't quit from a distance as he refocuses his chi back onto the troublesome left leg that previously sidelined him for the better half of a year.

And while the news is unwelcome, it's not all bad, with Bryant admitting to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that he's lucky it "wasn't a meniscus [tear]" which can accompany these injuries and often requires surgery.

It's also a fracture that, according to Bleacher Report's Lead Sports Injury Writer Will Carroll, tends to "heal cleanly." Bryant must stay off the leg and resume non-weight bearing activities to allow the bone to mend.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates along with Xavier Henry # after Gasol made two foul shots to put the Lakers ahead by two points with six seconds remaning against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on Nov
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Yet no matter how you paint the peril, all parties involved take a hit with this one.

The Lakers' locker room is sideswiped by yet another injury to work through just as the team was finding an identity and beginning to play team ball.

NBA fans who were once inspired by the superhuman return of the Black Mamba must now feel jaded to the medical realities of what an 18-season elite NBA career can do to your favorite player.

Pau Gasol is thrust back into the uncomfortable situation of being the number one option in a Mike D'Antoni offense not built to feature the Spaniard's strengths but instead designed to amplify his weaknesses.

And, perhaps the biggest of them all, Lakers Executive VP Jim Buss now faces even more pressure to justify his decision to give Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million extension before he even stepped onto the floor. Buss neglected to wait and see how his rehabilitated warrior's boot would hold up in the line of fire.

Sure, the numerically generous extension was the Lakers' not-so-subtle advertisement to the league's soon-to-be free agents that yes, the Lakers organization takes care of its star players with the contracts to match.

But for a Lakers' roster needing answers immediately, the subliminal courtship might not be enough to inspire confidence in Buss or his vision for the team's future.

It's a fluid situation in Lakerland these days and one that begets more questions than it does answers.

We know how Bryant will respond to this latest setback, but how will everyone else?

To start, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak signed former University of North Carolina point guard and second-year player Kendall Marshall to bolster the injury-depleted backcourt after learning of the results from Kobe's MRI.

Next will be Friday's game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, then at Golden State the next day, then Phoenix on Monday and so on. It won't take long before we learn how this Lakers team will respond.

Will their character become strengthened by the adversity or will they be eliminated by it?

For a player like Kobe who has given so much to the game to have it abruptly taken away, the fact that his teammates get to play at the highest level is reason enough to fight for everything this beautiful game has to offer.

As they face another setback to their locker room leader, there's no time to wallow.

Top to bottom, it's definitely dukes up for this Lakers team.


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