This is a scenario that has played out in virtually every Los Angeles Lakers game this season—one that, according to conventional NBA rules of logic and precedent, isn't supposed to happen. But there Bryant is, and there he'll continue to be—still playing, still shooting and still trying to make the Lakers matter in his own rage-against-reality way.
A 36-year-old with nearly 46,000 regular-season minutes, a rebuilt Achilles tendon and absolutely no hope of leading his team to 30 wins (let alone a postseason berth) shouldn't be killing himself to shrink a deficit from 30 to 20 in a meaningless game. There's no point.
For this historically fascinating, convention-flouting Lakers team, there are also no rules.
There were early hints it would be a subversive season in L.A.
Byron Scott spoke out against the three-point shot, insisting it wasn't part of the recipe for serious success. Never mind that the league at large has increasingly embraced the value of the triple in recent years, prizing its obvious one point of extra worth and subtler use as a space-creator that opens up other avenues for scoring.
True to his word, Scott has the Lakers playing a style of offense that features very few three-point shots; they rank in the bottom five for long-range attempts this year, per Basketball-Reference.com.
The disdain for generally accepted norms continued, with Scott also pledging to ignore the league-wide emphasis on rest for star players. As the San Antonio Spurs and forward-thinking teams everywhere have been limiting minutes and skipping games altogether, Scott determined before the season that he'd use his 19-year veteran for 30 to 40 minutes per contest, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com.
These contrarian experiments have all been interesting, none more so than Bryant's individual assault on one of the most hallowed NBA conventions.
Basketball is a collective effort, and the best way to win is for all five players on the floor to work together. Everyone seems to generally agree on this point. When one player takes too many shots or behaves in a way that minimizes the value of his teammates, that's bad.
It's what defenses want. And what defenses want is probably not what offenses should do. We're not dealing in quantum physics here.
Kobe thinks differently, as his somewhat ambiguous crime analogy indicates (via USA Today):
Obviously I’d rather get guys involved early, but, you know… how many blocks, a purse gets stolen in front of you how many blocks are you going to let the guy run? You can chase him down, keep him in sight yourself and wait for the authorities to get there, or you can decide to let him run and wait for the authorities to get there. It’s a tough thing…. I’m just trying to keep us in the game. I’d rather not have to do that, but we can’t just sit back and watch crime happen.
It's not clear if the crime Bryant refers to is the way opponents are dominating the Lakers or how his overwhelmed teammates are wasting (in his eyes) possessions by taking shots. Either way, Bryant's approach to crime-stopping includes shooting...a lot.
At 36, Kobe is chucking more than Michael Jordan ever did. More than Allen Iverson ever did. More, even, than 27-year-old, peak-of-his-athletic-gifts Kobe Bryant did, back in that bananas 2005-06 season we all remember as the year he didn't even pretend to care about anything other than scoring as many points as he could.
It's true: Bryant averages more shot attempts per game and has a higher usage rate than any player in the league, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Note that the Lakers have performed substantially better with Bryant off the floor, per NBA.com, and that key figures (such as they are) like Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer have spent recent postgame media sessions tap-dancing around the deleterious effects of Bryant's trigger-happiness.
Under normal circumstances, we could expect change. But there's nothing normal about what's happening with the Lakers this season. Bryant's carte blanche to shoot (and the team's lack of a voice strong enough to stop him) means the only way things will normalize is if Kobe decides to play by a set of rules other than his own.
And like so many great fictional bad-boy heroes, Kobe doesn't have time for your rules, man. He's a loose cannon, a lone wolf. There's no time for backup.
And really, would you want the rules that govern the other 29 NBA teams to apply to the Lakers? The vast majority of the league operates on similar principles; teamwork and the adherence to a sustainable long-term process matter for them.
It's more fun if there's an outlier like the Lakers. Why not just enjoy the isolated, chaotic lawlessness while we can?
There's a finite lifespan to this thing. There has to be. Bryant is the last of a dying breed.
"Kobe Bryant doesn't fit in today's game, but he's trying to force himself to defeat it anyway," Will Leitch wrote for Sports on Earth. "And sometimes, with one of those fadeaways, or an improbable drive to the basket, he legitimately does. He doesn't do it nearly enough. He can't do it nearly enough. But it's amazing to watch him try."
It is amazing to watch Bryant do what he's doing—regardless of the outcome.
Perhaps that's the most profound aspect of these ungoverned Lakers. We're supposed to care about the result of NBA games. Wins and losses have always been the most important determinant in sports, yet they hardly matter for the Lakers.
We don't care if the Lakers succeed or fail as long as Bryant keeps treating us to his own special brand of tragicomical heroism.
In other words: This rules.